Book Review: Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake #1) by C.J. Sansom

630981Title: Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake #1)
Author: C.J. Sansom
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: April 27th 2004
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Exciting and elegantly written, Dissolution is an utterly compelling first novel and a riveting portrayal of Tudor England. The year is 1537, and the country is divided between those faithful to the Catholic Church and those loyal to the king and the newly established Church of England. When a royal commissioner is brutally murdered in a monastery on the south coast of England, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s feared vicar general, summons fellow reformer Matthew Shardlake to lead the inquiry. Shardlake and his young protégé uncover evidence of sexual misconduct, embezzlement, and treason, and when two other murders are revealed, they must move quickly to prevent the killer from striking again.

In the middle of King Henry VIII’s Reformation in sixteenth century England, lawyer Matthew Shardlake is sent out by none other than Thomas Cromwell to solve a murder mystery in a nearby monestary. With the monestaries dissolving rapidly as the revolution passes through the country, and the King’s Men disband the corrupt monestaries at lightning speed, this is a very tumultuous era in English history, and the ideal background for the story.

That said, Dissolution reminded me an awful lot of The Name of The Rose. Unfortunately though, The Name of The Rose was a lot better. I have nothing against C.J. Sansom’s writing style or narrative, but it pales in comparison to this classic. In the abbey of Scarnsea, a commissioner sent by Cromwell himself, who was evaluating the monestary, was found murdered. Shardlake and his assistant travel to the abbey to find the identity of the murderer and solve the crime. But as soon as they arrive in Scarnsea, it’s obvious that they’re the target of a menacing presence who wouldn’t back away from hurting them as well. Secrets are buried deep inside the monestary, and Shardlake needs to find them before they find him.

Dissolution‘s historical research is impressive. The characters are fascinating in their originality. Take the main character for example. Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer, pro the reformation, but he also feels mixed emotions at seeing the monestaries disappear. He cares about people, some more than others, but he has a keen eye on seeing through lies and solving mysteries. He’s physically deformed, and often complains about is – which is great, because it’s completely human to do so. He’s flawed, more than a little bit, and this makes him so deliciously human I fell in love with this character right away. I’m so glad this author realized not all main characters need to be perfect or have flaws that aren’t really flaws to be intriguing.

The side characters were intriguing as well. I especially liked Guy a lot, and hope he makes a return in the follow-up novels.

The mystery was a tad bit predictable. It reminded me of the typical Agatha Christie style, although it’s obviously set many centuries earlier. The character’s motivations were a bit too obvious, the possible culprits too easy to pick out. While each may have their own motivations for committing the murder, I had a faint idea of who’d done it about halfway through the novel. The mystery itself isn’t that impressive, but the historical setting, the way it’s painted with an astonishing amount of detail and the author’s ability to really get into the mind of the sixteenth-century inhabitants of England, is fascinating and brilliant.

Dissolution is a great read. It’s enjoyable from start to finish, and makes the sixteenth century come to life on the pages. I recommend it to all historical fiction fans. I’ll definitely read the next one in the series, Dark Fire. Don’t go looking for the most complicated mystery of all times, but with all the rest this book offers, the mystery hardly matters that much. If you like historical fiction, you need to give this book a try. Spectacular for a debut author, and I can’t wait to see what else the author comes up with.

Comments

  1. Hmmm. Didn’t realize this was a series. I did enjoy this book. I’m a sucker for a great historical setting. I thought it moved a bit slow at times, but I still enjoyed it. I might be persuaded to check out future installments. Great review!

  2. I love historical fiction and the attention to detail has my interest piqued awesome review.

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  2. […] “Dissolution is a great read. It’s enjoyable from start to finish, and makes the sixteenth century come to life on the pages.” — I Heart Reading […]

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