Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake Series #1)

Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake Series #1)

by C. J. Sansom


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It is the winter of 1537 and England is divided into those faithful to the Catholic Church and those loyal to the King and the newly established Church of England. Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's feared vicar-general, crusades against the old Church with savage new laws, rigged trials, and a vast network of informers. Queen Anne Boleyn has been beheaded and monasteries are being dissolved-their treasures pillaged and their lands eyed greedily by courtiers and country gentry. But having put down one people's rebellion, Cromwell fears another might topple the realm. So, when one of his commissioners is murdered in the monastery at Scarnsea on the south coast of England, he enlists his fellow reformer, Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer renowned as "the sharpest hunchback in the courts of England," to head the inquiry.

When Shardlake and his young clerk and protégé, Mark Poer, arrive at Scarnsea, the two are greeted with thinly veiled hostility and suspicion as their investigation quickly uncovers evidence of sexual misconduct, embezzlement, and treason. While the community of brothers is revealed to be far less pious than they would seem, Shardlake himself is shocked to discover truths about Cromwell that undermine his own beliefs and threaten to cost him his faith, and even his life. But when a novice is poisoned and a year-old corpse dredged up from a nearby pond, Shardlake must act quickly to prevent the killer from murdering again

Exciting and elegant, Dissolution is a riveting historical novel and a brilliant debut by a writer who is sure to attract fans of Iain Pears, Ellis Peters, and Umberto Eco.

Author Biography: C. J. Sansom earned a Ph.D. in history and, before becoming a full-time writer, was a lawyer. Dissolution is his first novel.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780670032037
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/28/2003
Series: Matthew Shardlake Series , #1
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 6.32(w) x 9.34(h) x 1.36(d)

About the Author

C. J. Sansom, the internationally bestselling author of the novels Winter in Madrid and Dominion and the Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery series, earned a Ph.D. in history and was a lawyer before becoming a full-time writer.

Table of Contents

What People are Saying About This

Peter Robinson

Dissolution is a terrific novel. Not only does C.J. Sansom present a fully-realised picture of life in Reformation England-its sounds, sights, smells and politics-but he also gives an intriguing puzzle and, in the form of Dr. Matthew Shardlake, a fascinating character caught in a balancing act of faith, humanity and allegiance as he tries to solve a series of horrible crimes. This is historical crime fiction at its finest.

From the Publisher

"The sights, the voices, the very smell of this turbulent age seem to rise from the page. With his remarkable debut, C. J. Sansom can lay claim to a place among the most distinguished of modern historical novelists." —P. D. James

"Sansom seems to have been born with, or instinctively acquired, that precious balance of creativity and research that lets a mystery set in another time walk a delicate line between history and humanity." —Chicago Tribune

"With this cunningly plotted and darkly atmospheric effort, Sansom proves himself to be a promising newcomer." —Publishers Weekly

"This is a humdinger of a whodunnit. Read it!" —Colin Dexter

Reading Group Guide


"We had once believed with Erasmus that faith and charity would be enough to settle religious differences between men." —Matthew Shardlake

England, 1537. The Reformation has become a reign of terror and Catholics must denounce the pope or face the rack in the Tower of London. Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell are dissolving the network of monasteries that, in many cases, were guilty of much wrongdoing. When a commissioner sent to investigate the St. Donatus Monastery is murdered—"his head cut clean off" in the building's kitchen—Cromwell calls upon Matthew Shardlake, a remarkably astute hunchback, to solve the crime. Along with his young apprentice Mark Poer, Shardlake accepts the mission. In bitter cold, they set out on horseback to the ancient stone building with fear in their hearts. Would they be living among a cloistered madman? Was this a ritual killing? If not, why was the church altar desecrated with a dead cock? Or had that been a diversion to confuse the investigators? Had the commissioner discovered a secret that cost him his life? Should Shardlake and Mark uncover a similar secret, will they be the next victims?

Upon arriving at the monastery, Shardlake and Mark meet a host of peculiar men, each one presenting unique challenges to the seemingly impossible task of finding Commissioner Singleton's murderer. Brother Guy, the infirmarian, is austere yet warm. Despite the brother's refusal to renounce the pope, Shardlake is drawn to his healing abilities and earnest personality. The stuttering Brother Edwig manages the monastery finances. He's tight with St. Donatus' money and keeps records of land purchases under lock and key. Shardlake finds Prior Mortimus, the disciplinarian, to be a despicable individual who embodies the hypocritical nature of the Catholic Church. Far from being in control of his immoral urges, Mortimus' brutal punishments often land other brothers in the infirmary—or in a coffin. Brother Gabriel, who is responsible for the music and aesthetics of the church, is morally upright—unless in the company of attractive young men. And lurking around the property on crutches is an emaciated, insane Carthusian monk, his body and spirit broken by a harrowing period spent in London's infamous Tower. In addition to these, the feeble Abbot Fabian, and various aging monks, there is Alice. The only woman living on the premises, she works alongside Brother Guy in the infirmary. Intelligent, willful, and beautiful, Shardlake and Poer both take her not just into their confidence but also into their hearts. Shardlake, however, is no ordinary man—he is a hunchback. Painfully aware of his physical deformity, he watches helplessly as Alice's relationship with Poer deepens into a romantic affair.

The secret passages that Shardlake and Poer discover behind the walls of the monastery serve as an apt metaphor for the mysteries the two must solve—and are a potent reminder that nothing is as it appears. The brothers are dropping like flies, and Shardlake is painfully aware that his life may be next. When the deranged Carthusian mockingly reveals the identity of the famous prisoner kept in the cell next to his in the Tower of London, Shardlake must confront a degree of moral decrepitude that challenges his faith in the church, his country, and even his own instincts. Are the three people Shardlake trusts most—Alice, Mark, and Brother Guy—his biggest danger? Forging ahead to resolve the bloody mess at St. Donatus, he knows the consequences of his investigation go beyond the dissolution of the monastery. When Shardlake returns to London, he is a disillusioned man who "in [his] willful blindness has refused to see what was before [his] eyes." Readers, however, are left eager for another chance to meet this exceptionally rich and challenging protagonist.


C. J. Sansom earned a Ph.D. in history and, before becoming a full-time writer, was a lawyer. Dissolution is his first novel. He lives in Sussex, England, where he is working on further Matthew Shardlake mysteries.


What inspired the creation of Matthew Shardlake? Why did you afflict him with this particular physical deformity?

I wanted to write a novel about the dissolution of the monasteries, a very dramatic episode in English history whose dramatic potential I thought had never been fully exposed—perhaps because of the complexities of theology and politics that were involved. To interpret the time to modern readers, I needed a protagonist who was "apart" from his time—through intellectual rigor and honesty, but also in more subtle ways. Or at least I think that was what was going on in my subconscious, because Shardlake and Mark riding through bad weather together was a picture that appeared in my head fully formed one day. I don't know why I gave him the hunchback, perhaps it symbolizes the weight he carries as a person of integrity in that grim time.

Considering the large, if confined, cast of characters and the intricate plot twists, how did you keep the narrative on course? Discuss your method of writing such a novel. Did you have an outline? Were you aware of the outcome from the beginning?

I believe very strongly in writing to a tight structure, especially in a thriller—though I know not all thriller writers do that. My background as a lawyer has something to do with my schematic approach, I'm sure. I wrote Chapter One, then did an overall "structure plan" that changed and developed as I went on, reviewing what is revealed to whom at what stage. But I don't put the novel in a straitjacket—characters have to have room to develop. For example, I originally intended the abbot to be the murderer, then realized he wouldn't have had the stomach for murder, but the bursar would. But I had the idea of a female killer, and the notion that Mark would betray Shardlake, from the start.

How did you make the transition from lawyer to writer? Do the two careers require types of logical thinking that compliment each other?

I had always wanted to write novels, but not coming from a wealthy background I needed to work for a living and had little energy to write at the end of a busy day—a common story I know! In 2000 I decided to take a year off and have a real go at writing a novel, and the rest is history, or at least historical novels. As I said above, I think the habit of organizing large bodies of complex material, always with presentation as a factor, which I had for years as a solicitor working in civil litigation, has influenced my way of working. And my first incarnation, as a history student at university helped with the research!

Why did you choose to write about this particular time in England? Do you think it is the most important era of English history, a time that lends itself particularly well to drama, or a combination of these things?

I think the sixteenth century is a fascinating period in British and European history—the intellectual framework of medieval Europe was torn apart and the modern world began. I wouldn't say it was the "most important" period of English history—the Industrial Revolution shaped modern life far more. And I am interested in other periods, having just finished a novel set around the Spanish Civil War.

Did you, at any point, envision Shardlake and Alice becoming romantically involved? Why or why not?

No. I didn't think someone as young and emotional as Alice could ever be interested in Shardlake, and I see him as the sort of detective, like Inspector Morse, who doesn't have a lot of success with the ladies—I don't mean because of his hump, which would not have been that uncommon in England then—more his lack of self-esteem. But he does have a serious, reciprocated romantic interest in the sequel, though I won't say whether or not it ends happily . . .

What aspect of Shardlake's personality do you empathize with the most? Do you imbue your characters with parts of yourself? If so, is this a phenomenon that, as a writer, you don't notice till the novel is completed?

I think most major characters are either parts of oneself or parts of people that have made an impact on you, for good or ill. Beyond that, I don't know, because I find that mostly my major characters are formed subconsciously, and often take on a life of their own on the page and move away from what was planned—like the abbot, mentioned above.

Which part of Dissolution was the most time consuming: the writing or the research?

The research took about two to three months—I was lucky because I knew the period well and needed only to research the dissolution. Writing was odd—the first half took six months. Then, after a crisis of confidence, I decided to just bash on and finish and I did the second half in six weeks. I don't think it suffered, which is odd. The revision is what takes a lot of time and is the least enjoyable part, but it has to be done and knocked into the best shape possible for the readers!

Other than Matthew Shardlake, Brother Guy stood out as an individual with a fascinating past. Is it possible that he will reappear in another novel?

It is. He does. He is the only character from Dissolution, apart from Shardlake and Cromwell, to appear in the sequel, Dark Fire.

From which authors have you learned the most about writing?

I have always had very catholic tastes. John le Carré, P. D. James, Ruth Rendell, and John Steinbeck spring to mind.

Do you have further plans for Shardlake? If so, what are they?

The sequel, Dark Fire, finds him once again reluctantly involved in a mission for Cromwell. It is set entirely in London, in 1540, three years later. I will shortly be starting research for a third Shardlake novel, set during Henry VIII's royal progress to York in 1541.

  • Was Matthew Shardlake a truly naïve character, or was he simply in a deep state of denial with regard to Thomas Cromwell's style of governing?
  • What feelings did the author's depiction of the dissolution of the monasteries evoke in you? Were you conflicted? Did you empathize with the brothers?
  • Can you imagine what your life might have been like during this period of history? Elaborate on the different ways in which the author evoked Tudor England, particularly London.
  • Do you think an individual with a humpback could have risen to a commissioner's position at a time when his physical handicap was—to many people—bad luck? Why do you think the author chose to saddle Shardlake with this deformity? Did you feel sorry for him? Why or why not?
  • Did you feel sexual tension between Alice and Shardlake? If so, was it authentic or do you think Alice manufactured a faux physical attraction to manipulate Shardlake? Cite examples from the novel that support your theory.
  • Choose one word, as quickly as possible, to describe each of the three main characters: Shardlake, Mark Poer, and Alice. Once you have done this, elaborate on the complexities, or lack of complexities, of these individuals.
  • How effective was the author in maintaining suspense? At what point in the novel did you have an inkling as to who Singleton's murderer was, and when did you see the murders as separate events as opposed to being committed by one culprit?
  • A "red herring" is a device used in mysteries to throw the reader off the track of the true perpetrator. What, or who, were Mr. Sansom's red herrings?
  • What characters from Dissolution would you be interested in seeing again in future Matthew Shardlake mysteries? Why?
  • Did you feel relief upon learning that Mark Poer and Alice survived? Why or why not?

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Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake Series #1) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 108 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
King Henry VIII selects Thomas Cromwell to destroy the Roman Church through newly enacted laws, phony witchcraft-like trials, and informers in every walk of life. Cromwell performs his assignment with zeal, but also worries about a revolt from the oppressed Papists and others opposed to the newly formed Church of England.

In 1537 Cromwell learns that someone murdered one of his agents Commissioner Singleton while on the King¿ s business at the Monastery of St. Donatus the Ascendant of Scarnsea. He enlists lawyer Matthew Shardlake to investigate. Known in the court system for his hunchback, Shardlake and his clerk travel to the Benedictine cloister to make inquiries amongst close-mouthed individuals filled with animosity towards the outsiders. The sleuths find a hotbed of sexual depravity and treasonous acts, but worse to Shardlake, he obtains damaging information about his employer that places Cromwell in a less than holy light and himself in peril for his life. Still he must stop a serial killer from murdering again.

Using historical facts and real persona from the period of ¿Dissolution of the English Monasteries¿ (1536-1540), C.J. Sansom provides readers with a vivid Tudor historical mystery. The background is so descriptive it overwhelms the prime theme of a well-written who-done-it in spite of interweaving tidbits into the plot. Shardlake is the glue as he refuses to allow his handicap back from keeping him from performing his duties but struggles with his values once he learns the truth about his mentor. Cromwell is cleverly drawn as a Machiavellian type by using authentic references to his recorded actions. Fans of historical mysteries with an emphasis on the era will appreciate DISSOLUTION.

Harriet Klausner

catwak More than 1 year ago
This pedestrian mystery improved my medieval vocabulary but did little else to hold my attention. For readers who are seriously interested in Thomas Cromwell's England, I would suggest Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" instead.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very impressive first novel by C. J. Sansom. 'Dissolution' is a wonderfully crafted work. In the true nature of a cozy mystery, the setting is exotic (1537, Henry VIII's and Lord Thomas Cromwell's England), and the mystery is self-contained within a small community (Scarnsea Abbey). The protagonist (Matthew Shardlake, a hunchback) and his assistant (Mark Poer) are both colorful and flawed. Sansom uses description expertly without incorporating graphic detail designed only to shock the reader. It is a novel written to inspire thought more than to thrill. Sansom has done an impressive job of bringing alive the Reformation and the politics surrounding the collapse of the Roman Catholic Church in England and mingling the history with a superb mystery. I look forward to reading future works by C. J. Sansom.
Chloe123 More than 1 year ago
So often when the facts are wrong in a historical novel of any kind, it is a big turn off to anyone with a knowledge of history. This is not the case with this author. He is dead on with his facts,even with the personalities of famous persons. At first I found lawyer Matthew Shardlake an unsympathic hero, being one of the men who were involved with the "Dissolution" of the monastic life in England. But by the end of the book I was appreciating the very human emotions & inner conflicts that the author placed within this character and others about this drastic change. Though the story wandered a bit in the middle, and the ending a little predictable , it was good enough to make me add this author to my list of medieval fiction/mystery writers. The author will only get better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the most accurate, fun to read and nail biting suspense filled books you will ever read. Make sure to pick up DARK FIRE and SOVEREIGN after you finish this one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
He¿s a lawyer appointed by Thomas Cromwell the vicar-general of King Henry VIII to solve the crime of a commissioner. His name Matthew Shardlake, hunchback and loyal, his helper Mark Poer, handsome. England 1537 the conflict between the Church and King Henry VII. Division between those loyal to the church and those loyal to the king. On his search for the truth at Scarnsea he finds out that there was not only one murder but more and were covered. He questions himself if he should stay loyal to the church or the king. His life becomes in danger while he stuck between four walls and a mystery to solve. I recommend this book if you enjoy mysteries and enjoy the subject of church vs. king. To read this book you have to have patience because at first it¿s boring but then things start to clear out. I was satisfy with the book because I basically knew most of the historical information. I didn¿t like the beginning of the book because it was too long the way he described things was confusing. If you can keep up with the book you in good shape, because it¿s all about patience and understanding. What caught my attention was the way he made a disable person be the protagonist, showing the reader that in life there is no obstacles.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a history major and read a great many mysteries. One or two factual errors and I close the book. Dissolution was superb and cost the better part of a night's sleep as I could not put it down. I passed it along to my two history major children who also loved it. We need LOTS more from this author!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The time of the Reformation (1536-1540); King Henry VIII sets to his vicar general Thomas Cromwell the task of dissolving the intricate feudal network of the Catholic Church in order to install the newly formed Protestant Church of England (the Anglican faith). It is a time of both fear and change. The common people have reason to fear the representatives of both churches, and England is divided into the followers of Cromwell (whom friends of which wish to profit from the cheap acquisition of land previously allocated to the wealthy abbots and their monasteries) and of the followers of the old faith in all its Latin pomposity and remoteness from the masses. The outspoken are accused of treason and informers abound in this period of religious uncertainty. Ordered to investigate the murder of one of Cromwell's commissioners at a Benedictine monastery, lawyer Matthew Shardlake and his assistant are sent to the dying port town of Scarnsea on the Sussex coast. Here the monks dominate the town, and the resentment of the village folk is one of the reasons Cromwell wishes to keep the news of the murder from both the public and the King. A discreet inquiry is needed while pursuing the 'surrender' of the wealthy monastery to the crown. Shardlake is a true believer of the new faith and religious reform but as secrets of the monastery are brought to light, he begins to doubt the integrity of the cause, and of its instigators. Quite simply, this was a terrific book. It is a magnet to your hands, and not entirely because it is an extremely engaging murder mystery that follows the winning formula of clues, betrayals, threats to the investigator etc. It is the age, the life of England that is so beautifully and intricately portrayed that it does truly leap off the pages and into the room. This book would rapidly become a favourite to anyone who enjoys historicals and a little crossing of the genre boundaries. Never let this book out of your house! == Andrea Thompson
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
C.J. Sansom¿s Dissolution is the first of a series of novels featuring Dr. Matthew Shardlake, who, in this episode is a lawyer whose boss is no one less than Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's chief minister. The action of Dissolution takes place just after The Pilgrimage of Grace rebellions have been put down and the main rebel leaders have been put to death. Part of the reason for this particular rebellion was the dissolution of several monasteries, a plan hit upon by Cromwell who supposedly saw this as a way to enrich not only the king's pockets, but his own and his relatives as well while he also happens to be reforming the church in England. Cromwell had earlier sent a Commissioner to the Benedictine monastery at Scarnsea, but somehow he ends up dead and beheaded. Now Shardlake, along with his young assistant Mark Poer, is called upon to deal with the matter. After his arrival, things begin to heat up and more deaths occur. With a monastery full of suspects, Shardlake has his work cut out for him. While it's not an absolute necessity, knowing some basic Tudor history would be quite helpful, especially where it concerns the reformation of the Church in England. While this book made for a good series opener, and a fine look at a very small slice of Tudor history, I figured out the main whodunnit early on. Normally, this is when I bug out of a series -- I liked to be challenged. However, the Tudor period makes for interesting reading, and Sansom's writing is quite good, so I went ahead and bought the 2nd book. I'd recommend it to people who like historical fiction, and to people looking for something lighter to read about the Tudor period that rises above say, The Other Boleyn Girl.
readafew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a pretty good book. I think it gave an excellent feel for the time period it took place in. There is quite a bit of information about the times without being overbearing. I have to say that reading this book constantly gave me the feeling that I was reading a simpler version of the Name of the Rose. I think the first reason why I didn't rate it higher is because Shardlake seemed to be spending a lot of time complaining about his back or worrying about what people thought of his appearance. It was needed but seemed to be a little to much 'in your face'. The second was one of the main characters reactions and development seemed to be entirely geared toward the ending of the book instead of building to it which seemed to flatten the story out a little for me. After all that I think it's a good book worth the read.This book is the first in the series staring Matthew Shardlake. Shardlake is a hunchback lawyer practicing in Tudor England around the time Henry VIII broke away from Rome and started the Church of England. This book is takes place at one of the monastery's where one of the King's men has been murdered while trying to bully the Abbott into surrendering to the King. Shardlake is sent in as Cromwell's man to try to find the murderer and get the Abbott to capitulate. A somewhat difficult assignment gets more and more complex as he works his way through the dark. It's a political thriller where the potential losers are willing to kill to get revenge or greed or maybe even salvation.
everfresh1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great combination of good mystery with excellent history lesson. Fascinating time of reformation. The author does excellent job of creating the atmosphere of England in 1537. Look forward to other books by this writer.
ChelleBearss on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Set in the 1500¿s at the time of King Henry VIII and his war against the Catholic Church, this is the first book in the Matthew Shardlake Series.Shardlake, a hunchback attorney, receives an urgent notice from Vicar Thomas Cromwell to investigate a murder of unusual circumstances. An officer of the court had been sent to the Scarsea Monastery to investigate possible ungodly and criminal acts and to make attempts at having the Abbot surrender the church to the King. Before he succeeds he comes to an untimely death by being beheaded by a sword and the church is desecrated with an animal sacrifice and theft of a relic. Shardlake and his assistant must investigate the Abbot and Brothers and all the staff but unfortunately for Shardlake everyone seems to be guilty of something. Before he is able to investigate enough to have any leads the body count starts rising and he finds himself in the middle of multiple murders and trapped by a snowstorm. Tensions start to rise amongst those who are scared for their lives, those worried that the monastery is being closed, and those trying to hide their crimes. I have a love/hate relationship with Shardlake. I loved following him investigate and make deductions and going down many wrong paths to find the right one, but I found his position hard to believe at times. He is a hunchback who is ridiculed for his deformity and he can be very naive, but at times he can be incredibly rude and demanding of those working with him. I wanted to slap him at times. Didn¿t anyone say please in the 1500¿s?
NeilDalley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fabulous murder-mystery backed up by excellent historical research of the period. I enjoyed the book with its perfect plot line but I found the writing at times quite uninspiring. It was quite pedestrian and plodding. It doesn't stop this from being a jolly good read but don't read it expecting to be inspired by the author's use of language.
cushlareads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first in a series of historical crime novels set in Tudor England, in 1537. Anne Boleyn has been beheaded, and Jane Seymour has just died. The main character, Matthew Shardlake, is a lawyer with strong ties to Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is closing down the monasteries, and the country is in the middle of religious upheaval, with Henry VIII now head of the church and Roman Catholicism outlawed. Cromwell sends Shardlake to Scarnsea monastery, on England's south coast, to investigate the murder of the previous commissioner sent down there to ferret out anything illegal in the monastery and close it down.I couldn't put this book down - Shardlake, a hunchback, was a sympathetic main character, and all the characters were made interesting. I thought I knew who'd dunnit and I was wrong till it was blindingly obvious. If you loved Wolf Hall or The Name of the Rose, you will almost certainly like this. I'm going to buy the next one on Book Depository now!
polarbear123 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I actually read Sovereign before this book. Both are set at a similar time, dealing with religious changes at the time of Henry VIII. Shardlake is an interesting detective as he is hinself an outsider in society. The History is good and the pace is good in both books. I did not work out the murderer in Sovereign however with Dissolution I had guessed the eventual culprit fairly early on. Not that ths dectracted from my overall enjoyment of the book. It was very entertaining indeed. Whenever I need to read an intresting, exciting crime thriller I will turn to C J Sansom. The historical aspect adds to the attraction for me. However there is nothing spectacular or out of the ordinary here. Lets see if I work out the killer in Dark Fire next time.
cathymoore on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A really gripping murder mystery set during the Reformation. Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer sent to a rural monastery to discover who murdered the King's Commisioner who had been sent there to dissolve the monastery. I really enjoyed this. Shardlake is a brilliant character, just troubled and imperfect enough and I'm looking forward to finding out more about him in the next book in the series.
fglass on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Just finished this second in C. J. Sansom's Shardlake mysteries. This is even better than his first in this series, "Dark Fire." Sansom weaves historical fact into his stories beautifully, and you are drawn into Tudor England with great finesse. I'm starting "Sovereign" immediately - that's the third of the four Shardlake mysteries.
ChrisSterry on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent historical novel. The characters are very rounded, and the moral and political tensions of the Reformation are presented in a stimulating manner. The attention to historical details is superb. Above all the plot is brilliant. i had no idea whodunnit till the very last chapter. My first act on finishing it was to go to Amazon and order the next book by Sansom.
wandering_star on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a good page-turner - set around the time of the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, although the title also refers to the dissolute living which was going on at some of them. An up-and-coming lawyer is sent down from London to a monastery on Romney Marsh, with two tasks - to persuade the abbot to surrender the monastery to the Crown, and to find out who murdered the last man who tried to do the same. He carries these out dutifully - but at the same time, he begins to question the value of the reforms which he has always supported. That storyline, and the historical detail, add extra levels of interest to what is already a good mystery story.
riverwillow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting and compelling mystery story, which kept me gripped to the end of the book. Its hard to believe that this is a debut novel as Sansom handle his subject with authority. The plotting of the mystery is good and I really enjoyed how Shardlake's views were shaped by his discoveries as he investigated the murders at the monastery.
oataker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is not just a murder mystery set among the terrrible Tudors but also deals with the theological issues of the times. Sanson gives his detective a reforming zeal and allows him to vigorously confront what he sees as Catholic superstition. The monks represent some of the worst of the previous system's abuses with brainless intoning of masses, sexual depravity and soft living. But the theology gets discussed and argued over quite satisfactorily with the Spanish attempt at reformation without Luther being quoted as an opportunity missed in England. Shardlake has a fairly convincing late-mediaeval cast of mind as he thinks about judgement quite a lot and is thoroughly class conscious, although probably rather squeamish by Tudor standards. I detect teh first signs of doubts in his mind by the end of the book and one reason I shall read the other books is to see whether Shardlake will end up as an atheist or a crypto-catholic by the final book in the series.
eleanor_eader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dissolution marks the beginning of Sansom¿s historical crime fiction series set during the reign of Henry VIII, focusing on Cromwell¿s reformation of the Catholic monasteries in England. For something that I picked up as a guilty-pleasure fiction read, I certainly learned a great deal about this particular period of history but I also got my guilty-pleasure reading fix, because this was an enjoyable read; pure crime fiction with fabulously suspicious monks, a decapitated body, and a back-story rife with scandal and disappearances. The protagonist sleuth, Matthew Shardlake is a grumpy hunchbacked lawyer with a sharp eye and sharper mind, loyal to Cromwell¿s cause in the beginning, yet becoming increasingly sympathetic to those who come up against the cruelty of the reformation.Cromwell¿s lawyers have been investigating the monasteries, reduced to blackmailing them into surrender with talk of licentious practices or fraud, since heavier-handed means have sparked public response. One of Shardlake¿s colleagues has been decapitated while negotiating with a remote village monastery, and when he is dispatched to investigate the murder, Shardlake discovers layers of deceit and mystery, the matter forcing him to confront his own firmly-held convictions.There¿s so much that I liked about this book ¿ it¿s not as fussy as some period crime fiction (but hey, I like the fussy sort, too), because the period in question was at best uneasy, and at worst savage. I think my approval largely stems, however, from the fact that the protagonist has a deformity and likes women who match his spirit, regardless of their looks. It¿s been a long time since I¿ve read fiction that didn¿t couple two beautiful people (with obligatory quirky flaws) whose intelligence was both under-described and under-shown in comparison.I¿m already halfway through the second book, Dark Fire, and while I think I see improvements in pacing and am finding the storyline very slightly more interesting, I would hesitate to say that it is `better¿. This first book in the series is a brilliant introduction to a compelling (if reluctant) investigator and a setting drawn in exquisitely brutal detail.
soliloquies on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable book about a 16th century lawyer sent, by Thomas Cromwell, to investigate a murder at a monastery. The historical backdrop of the dissolution of the monasteries is fascinating as it allows the author to create plenty of tension and suspicion. Weave in Cromwell's attempts to curry favour with his King and you have a realistic view of Tudor England.
justininlondon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
16th century, crime fiction, Thomas Cromwell, detective, England, fiction, Henry VIII, historical fiction, historical mystery, Matthew Shardlake, series, monasteries, monastery, monks, murder, mystery, fiction, Reformation, Tudor,
LTFL_JMLS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked this one. The main character actually learned a few things, which isn't always the case in a mystery. Looking forward to reading #2 in the series.