Pan Macmillan remembers C.J. Sansom (1952 – 2024)

It is with immense sadness that Pan Macmillan announces the death on Saturday 27th April of C.J. Sansom at the age of 71. 

It is with immense sadness that Pan Macmillan announces the death of C.J. Sansom. Chris’s first novel, Dissolution, which introduced readers to lawyer Matthew Shardlake, was published twenty-one years ago and won legions of fans. Chris wrote six further novels featuring Shardlake and two standalone historical novels, Winter in Madrid and Dominion, which were also huge bestsellers, and have all been applauded by readers and critics alike.

Chris won many accolades for his work, including most recently the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for his outstanding contribution to the genre. There are over three million copies of his novels in print. 

His longtime editor and publisher, Maria Rejt, has 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.

 Lucy Hale, Managing Director, Pan added:

We are immensely saddened to hear of Chris’s death: 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.

Antony Topping his agent, added:

Chris did not seek the limelight, preferring to be known through his novels, and so in comparison with his fame and reputation relatively few people were lucky enough to know the person behind the work. He had an immense, far-reaching and deeply humane intelligence. His fans can see this in the novels but he applied it equally in his everyday dealings with friends, in his politics and his charitable acts. He had a loathing of injustice of any kind and a special contempt for bullies.
At the same time he had a joyful and piercing sense of humour which he would spring on you, with an attempt at a straight face, when you were least expecting it. I already cherish the memories of my visits to his house where we would discuss his latest novel-in-progress – but also the latest HBO series, the latest harmful nonsense emanating from the Government, the latest geopolitical breezes coming our way from abroad which Chris always analysed with the long and sure eye of a world-class historian – but I think I will remember best the laughter we enjoyed together.
It is an extraordinarily strange coincidence that Chris has died only a handful of days before a new generation of fans will meet Matthew Shardlake, Barak and Guy and co. for the first time through the Disney+ adaptation of Dissolution which is being released on Wednesday of this week. This is also a moment for which Chris’s established fans have been waiting a long time. 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 C.J. Sansom novels. So long, Chris. I was lucky to know you.

One of Britain’s bestselling historical novelists, Christopher John Sansom was born in 1952 in Edinburgh. He was educated at Birmingham University with a BA and then a PhD in history. After working in a variety of jobs, he retrained as a solicitor and practised in Sussex, until becoming a full-time writer. He combined both history and law in his debut novel Dissolution – which took readers into the dark heart of Tudor England in a gripping novel of monastic treachery and death.

As the CWA noted when he was awarded the Diamond Dagger in 2022, Dissolution was an immediate bestseller, and critical success. Inspector Morse creator Colin Dexter called it ‘extraordinarily impressive’, while PD James described it as ‘remarkable’. The Sunday Times compared him only to Hilary Mantel.

This success sparked the bestselling Shardlake series, set in the reigns of Henry VIII and young Edward VI, and following the sixteenth-century lawyer-detective Matthew Shardlake and his assistant Jack Barak.

Maxim Jakubowski, Chair of the CWA, said at the time of the award:

C.J. Sansom has proven himself to be the modern master of the historical thriller, regardless of periods. Equally at ease evoking sixteenth century England, Spain in the aftermath of its Civil War or even an alternate post-WW2 Britain, he weaves a web of compelling reality around his characters and brings the past to life like no other, making him a splendid and deserved addition to the prestigious ranks of Diamond Dagger winners.