C. J. Sansom

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C. J. Sansom
Born1952 (age 70–71)
Edinburgh, Scotland
GenreHistorical fiction, crime fiction
Notable worksShardlake series
Notable awardsSidewise Award

Christopher John Sansom (born 1952) is a British writer of historical crime novels, best known for his Matthew Shardlake series. He was born in Edinburgh and attended George Watson's College in that city, but left the school with no qualifications. Sansom has written about the bullying he suffered there.[1] Subsequently he was educated at the University of Birmingham, where he took a BA and then a PhD in history.[2] After working in a variety of jobs, he decided to retrain as a solicitor. He practised in Sussex as a lawyer for the disadvantaged, before leaving the legal profession to become a full-time writer. He lives in Sussex.[2]


Sansom came to prominence with the Shardlake series, his historical mystery series set in the reign of Henry VIII in the 16th century. The series' main character is the hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake, who is assisted in his adventures by Mark Poer, then Jack Barak and also Nicholas Overton. Shardlake works on commission initially from Thomas Cromwell in Dissolution and Dark Fire, then Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in Sovereign and Revelation, Queen Catherine Parr in Heartstone and Lamentation and finally Princess Elizabeth in Tombland. Dark Fire won the 2005 Crime Writers' Association Historical Dagger.

After Dark Fire was published, a Sunday Times review made this comment: "Historical crime fiction is sometimes little more than a modern adventure in fancy dress. Not so the novels of CJ Sansom, whose magnificent books set in the reign of Henry VIII bring to life the sounds and smells of Tudor England..."[3]

Shardlake works as a lawyer in the service of Henry's younger daughter, Lady Elizabeth, in the novel Tombland (published in 2018), investigating a murder during the time of Kett's Rebellion in Norfolk. "Tombland is more of a grand historical epic than a tightly packed whodunnit, like some of the earlier novels; but 800 pages in Shardlake’s company will always fly by". [4] Dissolution was adapted in 10 episodes for BBC Radio 4 in September 2012, and Revelation in March 2017.

Sansom explained his reasons for making his protagonist a barrister, in an interview with The Guardian.

"I thought it made sense for Shardlake to be a lawyer for a number of reasons. First, the law was my profession: I find legal practice endlessly interesting. Second, it existed then and now, so it provides a point of contact for readers. And third, it's democratic: it offers a way into any number of mysteries, and puts Shardlake in the way of an endless variety of characters."

Sansom also said that he plans to write further Shardlake novels taking the lawyer into the reign of Elizabeth I.[2]

He has also written Winter in Madrid, a thriller set in Spain in 1940 in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and Dominion, an alternate history novel set in a Britain following a fictional Axis victory in World War II. About the latter novel, a Guardian review called the premise "an invented mid-20th century Britain that has the intricate detail and delineation of JRR Tolkien's Middle Earth, though thankfully described in better prose".[5]


Dark Fire won the 2005 Ellis Peters Historical Dagger, awarded by the Crime Writers' Association (CWA). Sansom himself was "Very Highly Commended" in the 2007 CWA Dagger in the Library award, for the Shardlake series.[6] Dominion won the Sidewise Award for Alternate History.[7] In 2022, Sansom received the Cartier Diamond Dagger from the CWA.[8]


Sansom was born in Scotland. He strongly opposes Scottish independence and described the prospect as "literally heartbreaking".[9] In his 2012 novel Dominion, his depiction of an alternative history in which Germany wins the Second World War, the Scottish National Party collaborates with the British Nazi state. He stated, "A party which is often referred to by its members, as the SNP is, as the National Movement should send a chill down the spine of anyone who remembers what those words have often meant in Europe".[10] He also pointed out that in real life, some of the party's members then had fascist sympathies.

He went on to describe the party as "deeply dangerous, with no politics in the conventional sense, believing only in the old dream that the unleashing of 'national spirit' and 'national pride' can solve a country's problems".[11] He donated £294,000 to the Better Together group which campaigned for a "no" vote in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.[12][13] He also said that the Yes Scotland campaign had "dubious" financial backing.[14]


Matthew Shardlake Series[edit]

  • Sansom, C.J. (2003). Dissolution. London: Macmillan. ISBN 1-4050-0542-4.
  • Sansom, C.J. (2004). Dark Fire. London: Macmillan. ISBN 1-4050-0544-0.
  • Sansom, C.J. (2006). Sovereign. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-3304-3608-2.
  • Sansom, C.J. (2008). Revelation. London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-3304-47102.
  • Sansom, C.J. (2010). Heartstone. London: Mantle. ISBN 978-1405092739.
  • Sansom, C.J. (2014). Lamentation. London: Mantle. ISBN 978-1447260257. [15]
  • Sansom, C.J. (2018). Tombland. London: Mantle. ISBN 978-1447284482. [16]

Other novels[edit]


  1. ^ Sansom, C.J. (6 May 2018). "CJ Sansom: Ten years at George Watson's College nearly killed me. Half a century on, I fear it's still a bullies' playground". The Times.
  2. ^ a b c Crown, Sarah (15 November 2010). "CJ Sansom: a life in writing". The Guardian.
  3. ^ C. J. Sansom Archived 15 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine article at Greene Heaton.
  4. ^ "Tombland by CJ Sansom review – royals and revolting peasants". the Guardian. 28 October 2018. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  5. ^ "Dominion by CJ Sansom – review". the Guardian. 6 December 2012. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  6. ^ the CWA Dagger in the Library 2007 Archived 15 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine – C.J. Sansom shortlisted for the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award.
  7. ^ Sidewise Award Nominees Archived 9 January 2019 at the Wayback Machine, SF Site News, 1 July 2013.
  8. ^ Mechler, Anita (10 February 2022). "CJ Sansom Wins Diamond Dagger Award". Library Journal. Retrieved 19 January 2023.
  9. ^ Phil Miller (13 October 2012). "Scots author condemns 'dangerous' SNP in book". The Herald.
  10. ^ "Scots author condemns 'dangerous' SNP in book". HeraldScotland. 13 October 2012.
  11. ^ CJ Sansom (19 October 2012). "My nightmare of a Nazi Britain". The Guardian.
  12. ^ "Scottish independence: Better Together reveals donor list". BBC News. 7 April 2013.
  13. ^ "Better Together backer linked SNP to "nationalist extremism"". Newsnet Scotland. 15 December 2013. Archived from the original on 18 December 2013.
  14. ^ "Scottish Review". Archived from the original on 17 December 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2013.
  15. ^ "Lamentation - C. J. Sansom - 9781447260257". Archived from the original on 14 September 2014. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  16. ^ "Tombland by C. J. Sansom". Pan Macmillan.

External links[edit]