Of Judgement Fallen, by Steven Veerapen

Michael Ward

In Steven Veerapen’s second Anthony Blanke mystery, we re-enter the murky world of plotting and foul play surrounding the court of Henry VIII.
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Our hapless hero, son of the king’s late black trumpeter John Blanke, is once again pressed into service as a spy by Cardinal Wolsey, the second most powerful figure in the land. Wolsey is pre-occupied with preparations for the forthcoming opening of Parliament at Blackfriars. All must be perfect for his demanding monarch, not the time for one of the Cardinal’s most vociferous critics to die an agonising death in Richmond Palace while waiting for an audience with the cleric.

Shaken by the proximity of such violence to him and the King, Wolsey puts Blanke on the case, urging him to be discreet, successful and quick with the opening ceremony fast approaching. It’s the tallest of orders, particularly as the bodies soon pile up along Blanke’s desperate and dangerous route to the truth, and many of the victims are critics of Wolsey.

The relative simplicity of this plot leaves Veerapen free to play to his greatest strength – the ability through exhaustive research and skillful writing to place the reader at the heart of this 16th century tale – on Wolsey’s shoulder as he holds court in his chambers, among the turf seats and gravel paths of Sir Thomas More’s garden or shackled to the wall of a grimy cell in the Poultry Compter. Like Blanke’s first adventure, Of Judgement Fallen is beautifully written with a cornucopia of historical detail in every line which, in less skilled hands, would be stilted. But the author’s touch is so deft it feels effortless, which of course is exactly what it’s not.

Meanwhile, the continuous interplay of narrative, dialogue and self-reflection, through his excellent use of the first person, drives the story effortlessly while providing access to Blanke’s inner voice and sardonic observations. And Veerapen is capable of memorable imagery: ‘As in most of London, the moment you stepped off a main thoroughfare, the roofs closed over your head, as though giant birds were bent in conversation above you.’

As the hunt gains pace, the devious killer turns the tables on his pursuer, implicating Blanke in the latest murder. All this serves to ratchet up the tension as the great day gets ever closer with the mystery stubbornly refusing to be solved. And the resolution, when it comes, is a novel one, as befits this dexterous author.

All bodes well for further Anthony Blanke mysteries. Sir Thomas More has joined the cast of characters, the author thankfully avoiding the stereotype of introducing just another ‘powerful courtier’. We soon understand that More is very different to Wolsey and both are human, and fallible – plenty of future grist to this author’s mill.

And once again, Anne Boleyn flits around the wings. Her time will surely come. Blanke impulsively does her a favour in this story. Will she remember?

Michael Ward is the author of the Thomas Tallant mysteries, based in 17th century London. The latest, Drums of War, is published by Sharpe Books.