MACMILLAN £17.99 (580PP). ORDER FOR £16.09 (FREE P&P) FROM 0870 079 8897

Revelation, by CJ Sansom

The Tudor Taliban

Apocalypse now! England, where the monasteries have so lately been dissolved, is in the grip of "salvation panic", and the flames of hell are looming. CJ Sansom's fourth fictional outing for his cautious, principled lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, presents early-Tudor London as a city so lashed by fanaticism that Shardlake's search for a serial killer is like looking for a needle in a haystack. In this world, a murderous individual psychopath seems barely less sane than the packs of religious fundamentalists who hunt down those guilty of the fearful crime of eating meat in Lent and burn a 15-year-old apprentice alive.

Not the least scary thing is the mirror this book holds up to our own times, as the powerfully imagined record of a society that has spiralled out of control. The Christian sects who foretold the end of the world, the modern hot-gospellers willing to undertake crusades, the Islamic extremists tearing their countries apart – this was the kind of religious savagery that convulsed 16th-century England.

The book seeks deeply for the sources of insanity in such an era. Shardlake's search takes him to Bedlam, where the physician Guy Malton, trained in the East, takes a special interest in enlightened treatments. Shardlake's predicament seems all the more terrible by contrast with the madness in the streets. Here is a trained lawyer, a man of moderate temperament, a balanced individual still sensitive to the pain of others, struggling to maintain rationality and to protect his small household in the midst of a city which has apparently gone crazy. As he despairingly comments, no-one listens, for all are raving.

Meanwhile there is no hope from the ruler. The royal tyrant, Henry VIII, commits judicial murder at will and the looming question of his sixth marriage will make or break many lives. The king is a giant tiger; no one knows which way he will jump. There is a remarkable description of Westminster Abbey following the dissolution of the monasteries, with tenements springing up around the cloisters and a "privatisation" of the medical services formerly provided in the Abbey infirmary.

When an old friend is discovered with his throat cut and his blood flowing into a fountain, Shardlake finds himself trying to find the killer and to master his own long-held affection for the widow. This murder is the beginning of a series of deaths, each more horrific than the last. Modes of death include being blown to pieces with gunpowder and nailed to the gates of a river lock; the chase culminates in a drowning in filthy sewage.

Shardlake shows his particular brand of moral courage, facing down insults against his hunched back as well as physical danger. The murder mystery is enthralling, but Sansom is intent on the bigger picture. The book has the compulsive quality of a fast-moving narrative, but takes the reader deep into a world where torture and death are not merely endemic but fantastically envisioned at every turn. The painted Doom on the walls of a Catholic chapter house depicts horrific visions. Venture outside, through alleys thronged with beggars, and you will find a Protestant preacher threatening hell-fire from the street corner.

Revelation is not merely the title of the book, nor an indication of what Shardlake finally achieves in his search to unmask a murderer. It is the apocalyptic nightmare of the Four Last Things; Hell on earth – and this is a masterly evocation.

Jane Jakeman's 'In the Kingdom of Mists' is published by Black Swan

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone