‘Dissolution’ is the first novel in the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom, set in the 1500s during the rule of King Henry VIII. There is no book I enjoy more than a well written historical murder mystery.
Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer working for Thomas Cromwell as a commissioner. He is a strong believer in the reformation of the church but at times he is beginning to question Cromwell’s methods. He also has difficulty with the travelling involved in his job as his hunchback makes travelling painful.
Shardlake and his young assistant Mark Poer are sent to St Donatas Monastery at Scarnsea. Robert Singleton had been sent there as a commissioner to obtain a voluntary agreement from the Abbot to close the monastery, but Singleton has been brutally murdered. Shardlake must find Singleton’s murderer and if possible continue Singleton’s work.
The monastery has spent the last 2 years publicly supporting the reformation and the King, but most of the monks have spent their lives living with Catholic traditions and are also accustomed to the life of relative luxury and idleness that exists in the monasteries. They don’t want to lose their monastery, but which of them could have stooped to murder?
During the investigation, Shardlake comes across an earlier murder and a number of additional murders are carried out while he is there. He seems to be having trouble determining the murderer or even if the murders have been carried out by the same person.
Snowed in at the monastery, he eventually manages to travel back to London for additional information and finally the pieces of his investigation start to fall into place.
But, some of the things he finds out make him question the progress of the reformation and the way the Cromwell is carrying things out. It creates a rift between himself and Mark.
Although all the murders are eventually solved, Shardlake’s relationships with both Cromwell and Mark are irreparably damaged. The series continues but with Shardlake no longer in Cromwell’s favour.
This was an extremely enjoyable and easy to read book. The characters were well portrayed and likeable. There was plenty of history, but the book was not weighed down with it. I’m looking forward to continuing the series with – ‘Dark Fire’.
Other books from this period of history that I have enjoyed are the Hilary Mantel books – ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ which are sympathetic to Cromwell, the Nancy Bilyeau books – ‘The Crown’, ‘The Chalice’ and ‘The Tapestry‘ written from the perspective of a nun and the S.J. Parris books ‘Sacrilege’ and ‘Treachery’.
Book Published 2003