Review: Dissolution, by C.J. Sansom

Between 1536 and 1541, King Henry VIII disbanded monasteries across England, Ireland, and Wales.  This was not without controversy and resistance.  Dissolution imagines a possible scenario involving murder and corruption.  Matthew Shardlake is sent to investigate the brutal murder of a king’s commissioner at a monastery on the south coast of England.  Shardlake and his assistant, Mark Poer, are invested with the authority to interview anyone they choose, examine the monastery’s financial records, and move pretty much without let or hindrance to identify the murderer.  They soon learn almost everyone has a motive, but at the same time almost everyone has an alibi.

It turns out the commissioner wasn’t the first person to be murdered there, and soon there are still more bodies.  What’s an investigator to do?  Matthew Shardlake is shrewd, with superb analytical skills, and quickly forms a hypothesis.  At this point, the reader can glance at the number of pages remaining and be fairly certain Matthew is not on the right track, but even as one theory is proven wrong another forms.  The situation is more complex than simply knocking off someone sent to shut down the abbey.  A long history of rivalry, corruption and “cooking the books” adds to the intrigue, resulting in a rich, layered mystery.

I enjoyed this novel’s historical setting.  C. J. Sansom brought a dark side of Tudor England to life, especially the environment of fear and control.  Matthew Shardlake and Mark Poer were simply functionaries with a job to do.  But their investigation also challenged them to face the beliefs and systems that made them who they are, and each resolved that conflict in his own way.  This is the first book in a series, and I will definitely be back for more.

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13 thoughts on “Review: Dissolution, by C.J. Sansom

  1. I enjoyed this one too. I picked up a copy of this book at a World book night event last year – and really enjoyed it, I later read the second installment on my indle while away in the summe. I now have numbers 3 and 4 on my TBR – when I’ll get round to them though I don’t now.

      • I can send you the third when I have finished with it – it wouldn’t be a book I’d want to keep – I have far too many keepers already. If you would like it LT private message me your address : )

  2. I love this series, they get better and better. C J Samson writes really intelligent historical fiction, it can be a bit uncomfortable at times – Henry V111 was not a nice person – but that’s because Samson creates such a vivid world that you feel as if you’re living there.

    • Victoria, it’s great to hear your praise for the series. I enjoy reading about the Tudor period so I’m sure this will be fun, although you’re right about the uncomfortable aspects!

  3. I LOVE the Matthew Shardlake books! I reviewed them last November. I am an urban planner and one of the things that I find most interesting is that there were land use attorneys that long ago worrying about things like setbacks and septic fields just like we do today. Of course, land use attorneys almost never get dragged into murder investigations these days. Too bad…

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