CJ Sansom, author of Shardlake historical mysteries, dies aged 71

Author Christopher John Sansom, best known for creating the character of Matthew Shardlake, has died at the age of 71.

The historical novelist, known as CJ Sansom, died on Saturday, according to publisher Pan Macmillan.

The character of Shardlake, a Tudor lawyer, was introduced in his first novel Dissolution, which was published 21 years ago.

He released six further novels featuring Shardlake, as well as two standalone historical novels, Winter In Madrid and Dominion.

His works have just been adapted into the series Shardlake, which features The Innocents star Arthur Hughes as the main character and Game Of Thrones actor Sean Bean as Thomas Cromwell.

The first season of the Tudor murder-mystery series is set to be released by Disney+ on Wednesday.

His literary agent Antony Topping called it an “extraordinarily strange coincidence that Chris has died only a handful of days before a new generation of fans will meet Matthew Shardlake”.

“This is also a moment for which Chris’s established fans have been waiting a long time,” he added.

“Chris was so proud of all the work and determination that went into bringing the novels to our television screens, which I hope will bring an entirely new audience to the books and which will maybe also inspire some old fans to return to their favourite CJ Sansom novels.

“So long, Chris. I was lucky to know you.”

Tributes to Sansom came in from fellow Scotsman and former police officer turned writer Denzil Meyrick as well as Scottish-Bengali crime writer Abir Mukherjee.

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, Mukherjee called Sansom “one of the finest ever writers of historical fiction”. He added: “He was an inspiration to me and to many others. We are poorer without him.”

Meyrick wrote: “His colourful, superbly researched historical fiction especially, made him one of the most successful writers of his generation. God rest you, sir. You’ll be much missed.”

Sansom was also a signatory to an 2014 open letter advocating that Scotland should remain in the UK.

The author also donated £161,000 to the Better Together campaign, according to published accounts.

His editor and publisher, Maria Rejt, said: “An intensely private person, Chris wished from the very start only to be published quietly and without fanfare.

“But he always took immense pleasure in the public’s enthusiastic responses to his novels and worked tirelessly on each book, never wanting to disappoint a single reader.

“He was working on his new Shardlake novel, Ratcliff, when he died but his worsening health made progress painfully slow: his meticulous historical research and his writing were always so important to him.

“I shall miss him hugely, not only as a wonderfully talented writer who gave joy to millions, but as a dear friend of enormous compassion and integrity.”

Born In Edinburgh, Scotland in 1952, Sansom studied at Birmingham University, where he achieved a BA and PhD in history.

Before becoming a full-time writer, he retrained as a solicitor and practised in Sussex.

Lucy Hale, managing director of Pan MacMillan, said: “It has been our profound privilege and pleasure to be Chris’s publisher from the very beginning, and Pan Macmillan will continue to celebrate him and introduce many more readers to his extraordinary body of work for many years to come.

“We are all thinking of his friends at this very difficult time.”

In 2022, Sansom picked up the Crime Writing Association’s highest honour which goes to an “author whose crime-writing career has been marked by sustained excellence”.

He was given the diamond dagger for his alternative history novel Dominion as well as the Shardlake series.

Sansom was also shortlisted for fiction book of the year at the British Book Awards for Tombland in 2019 and he was named an author of the future in 2007 in a Waterstones list.

A Disney+ spokesman said: “We are deeply saddened by the news of CJ Sansom’s passing. Our thoughts are with those who knew and loved him best and with his many loyal fans.”