In Putney, England, in the year 1500, a young man is beaten, almost to death, by his drunken father. "Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen" in a yard that "smells of beer and blood." It is not the first beating, but it will be the last -- of this kind at least. The youth is Thomas Cromwell (1485?-1540), the central character in Hilary Mantel's astonishing Wolf Hall. He will become Cromwell, Earl of Essex, Master Secretary and "Viceregent of Spirituals" to King Henry VIII, and the chief architect of the Protestant Reformation. Soldier, politician, and power broker, he will be a gentle father himself. And a killer.