Dissolution by C. J. Sansom

Series: Shardlake #1 Rating: 4.5/5
Date of Publishing: October 23rd 2014 Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Format: Audiobook Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Length: 14 hrs 30 min Author’s website: http://www.cjsansom.com/Homepage

Blurb

It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066. Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church. The country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers it has ever seen. And under the order of Thomas
Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent through the country to investigate the monasteries. There can only be oneoutcome: dissolution. 

But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwells Commissioner, Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege.

Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell to uncover the truth behind the dark happenings at Scarnsea. But investigation soon forces Shardlake to question everything that he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes...

Personal notes

My love for history is no secret for those who faithfully have been following my reviews in the last few months. Back in the day, when my english was still mostly non-existent, I had no idea about Goodreads and Facebook wasn’t a thing, I had limited sources to get my books. Of course we have libraries – with a not really satisfying collection, they are mostly for students – and bookshops, but let’s face it: only a small fragment of books make their way over here. With these circumstances it’s a small wonder I finally found my other love, fantasy. At the time I was still into YA and romance books (I turned my back on the latter since then). But, as I was a history fan myself, I was happy to find Dissolution by C. J. Sansom in one of the bookshops. Not sure if the Shardlake series woke up my interest in the Tudor era, or if I was already interested, anyway, this book got me hooked. Several years, and about 3 rereads later I’m still finding it good. Actually, this was the first time I read… erm listened to this in English. I wasn’t sure if I’m going to like it as much, but there was no issue whatsoever. I pretty much enjoyed the reading too.

Review

The story sets off right after Anne Boleyn is executed. Reformists are going strong, and the Catholic Church lost its power, monasteries are forced to accept the King’s supremacy, that they have to keep masses in english and generally bow down to reforms. Those who refuse are executed, their lands and wealth are taken, their buildings are brought down. But it’s not enough. Lord Cromwell wants to see all the monasteries gone and nothing can keep him from reaching that goal. He is cunning, ruthless, and uses the reforms to gain his own personal interests – namely to stay in the good will of King Henry VIII. When he realises force won’t work anymore to close down the monasteries, he sends his agents to inspect every little detail of the monks’ life, their finances, and if they follow the laws. Their goal is to find anything incriminating which would make the abbots sign their doom so those loyal to the King could get even more rich.

Things are going well, until, that is, one of the agents, Singleton is murdered in Scarnsea. Cromwell needs someone who can solve the mystery fast and quietly, so he sends one of his loyal friends and follower, the lawyer Matthew Shardlake. He is a clever, quick thinking man, who sincerely believes in the reforms and the men holding power over the government. He is also an unconventional protagonist – he is a hunchback. Feared, looked down and mocked in his whole life, although that doesn’t stop him to be a respectable, humble man who is good in his chosen profession. He and his protégé has to solve the mystery shrouding Scarnsea, but the monks and the killer doesn’t make it easy for them. Which starts as a single murder case, turns into several murder cases while they have to deal with the monks petty fights, their own survival and their clash of views.

The story takes place mostly in the monastery, a closed, full-of-secrets world, where almost everyone has a reason to commit such crimes in hope they could keep up their secluded, luxury lives the monastery provides them with. Shardlake has to figure out which leads are right and which take him to the wrong path. He also learns some uncomfortable truths about people he believed in blindly, which shakes his world. Does Cromwell truly believe in the reforms or they just want to please his king? Can he keep a straight head when his emotions are conflicted? Will his judgement be clouded by friendship or prejudice?

Dissolution is a masterfully woven mystery, which keeps you guessing until the end. The characters are alive and very real, you almost feel like they would walk off the pages anytime. They are not perfect. They have flaws, they make mistakes, they fight, they love. And underneath it all there is an insane amount of research to make not only the characters, but the whole era seem so real. You can smell the filth of London, feel the touch of the cold pew of the church underneath you, taste the cold november air. C. J. Sansom knows how to sneak in bits of information about the political state of England, how the gears work in the background even though it doesn’t play such an important part in the story itself. But it all adds to it, it helps to understand better why it is so important for the monasteries to go, it gives a legitimate historical background to the story to make it feel more real. And this all is being covered by a blanket called religion. This book (and the whole series) shows why religion is so important when it comes to history. How it can influence not only the life of common people, but the fate of a whole country, depending on who is in power and what his beliefs are. It shows what powerful men can do in the name of religion, of belief, of God. It can make a hypocrite out of anyone.

If you enjoy mystery, with a historical background, especially the Tudor era of England, then I strongly recommend giving a shot at Dissolution. It’s gripping, makes you sit on the edge of your seat, even though it’s not exactly fast paced. It will held your interest until the end, and you’ll find yourself totally engrossed and waiting when you can continue reading on. Oh, and did I say it also adds a tiny twist to Anne Boleyn’s story? Yeah, it has many, many layers you’ll enjoy discovering. I also recommend listening to the audiobook, Steven Crossley did a really good job narrating it!

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