Book Review: Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

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australis
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Book Review: Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

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Book Review: Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

I like a good historical mystery novel. And I think I’ve found a good series. Pretty damn good.

Set in the time of Henry VIII, Samsom’s Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer at Lincoln’s Inn, often defined against his will by his hunchback. But his sharp mind and curious nature have made him useful to Henry’s Chief Minister, Thomas Cromwell. Now, in the first of the series, Cromwell has a task for him: to travel to the South of England to the monastery of Scarnsea, and find out who killed Cromwells’ commissioner, charged with the task of dissolving the monastery.

In 1537, England was in a great turmoil over the dissolution of the Catholic monateries and the closing of many churches. I know a little about this time, and Sansom’s scholarship shows through, filling in gaps in my knowledge, as any good book should. It was a hard and painful time, for the ordinary monks and the servants that looked after them, mostly cast out into the street or the road, while the abbots and bishops ended up with land and a pension if they ‘surrendered’ their monastery peacefully. Henry had a whole department, the Court of Augmentations, in place simply to take apart the Catholic Church’s property piece by piece; the part I find hard to swallow is that the lands and goods were then distributed to Henry’s friends and supporters, and they were greedy, greedy men.

But I digress.

Shardlake and his assistant, Mark Poer, find the commissioner has been killed by a single swordstroke, taking his head clean off. Who would have a sword in a monastery? Gradually a list of suspects is assembled, all who could have done it, but also showing good cause for not. It’s one of the few books where I didn’t guess the killer's identity until the author revealed it, and then I could see the little clues planted along the way. And the journey of truth and discovery gets darker and darker the further it goes, into the depths of the human character under the pressures of a kind of life we can’t imagine, the precarious day to day existence of Tudor England

It was one of those books that races towards the end, and I had to sit up until some terrible hour to finish it, and was rewarded for it. Sansom does a great job of catching the sights and smells of that world, it does submerge you into that time and place. As a debut novel it’s a great book, and as a whodunnit, it’s a great read. And I’ve just heard that it's being developed for television, with Kenneth Branagh in the lead role. 4.5/5.

Dissolution was nominated for the 2003 Crime Writers' Association (CWA) John Creasey Memorial Dagger, for first books by previously unpublished writers. It was also nominated for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger in the same year.
"... times change, and so must I… we all change. When you think about it, we are all different people, all through our lives and that’s okay, that’s good! You've gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be."
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Re: Book Review: Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

Post by RJDiogenes »

A mystery-solving Hunchback in the 16th Century; now there's a concept. :D I always love the idea of mixing genres, and history plus mystery is a natural. What kind of a character is Shardlake? Does he have an moral misgivings about being part of Cromwell's operations? Also, if this is a series, I wonder how the author will deal with Cromwell's rather unpleasant demise-- and how it will effect Shardlake....
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Re: Book Review: Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

Post by Sean »

^ I like a good whodunnit. :yes: I'm not too much a fan of the Middle Ages/Renaissance time setting ( I prefer a detective packing a good ol' .38 :D ), but it sounds like an interesting premise.

I do have one question though...what is this doing in the performing arts forum? :conf:
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Re: Book Review: Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

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I can say Shardlake outlives Cromwell, which is kind of a plot point in the second book.

As a lawyer, he has misgivings about Cromwell's actions - the Chief Minister'sactions gretly affected the high and the low of the kingdom, and Cromwell comes across as a necessary evil, a hard man in hard times. But when he started to fall and his enemies closed in, it wasn't good. And the consequences to the kingdom of the loss of Cromwell can be summed up by Henry saying ten months later that he "lost the most loyal man in the kingdom".

Shardlake is a moral man in these hard times, but has to be pragmatic too.

The third book is quite interesting too.
"... times change, and so must I… we all change. When you think about it, we are all different people, all through our lives and that’s okay, that’s good! You've gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be."
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Re: Book Review: Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

Post by Sean »

australis, I scooted your book reviews off to the Fiction forum. I think they'll be more at home here. :)
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Re: Book Review: Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

Post by RJDiogenes »

^^ Thanks, Sean; I didn't even notice, since I use the 'View New Posts' link. :)
australis wrote:I can say Shardlake outlives Cromwell, which is kind of a plot point in the second book.
Ah, I wondered if the writer would do that, or simply stretch out the Cromwell Era with magical book time-- kind of like how Spenser is still running around like a 40-year-old when he has to be in his 70s. :D
Shardlake is a moral man in these hard times, but has to be pragmatic too.
That should make for good internal conflict. :yes:
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