Book Review: Dissolution – CJ Sansom

I picked up this book as a result of an effusive recommendation from my wife.
Since she’s generally spot on about such things I thought I’d give it a go. The
Tudor period isn’t a typical stopping off point on the timeline for me as far as
historical novels go, but in this case I was glad I did. The year is 1537; the
English Reformation is in full swing and Jane Seymour, King Henry VIII’s third
wife has just been buried. The action unfolds through the eyes of Matthew
Shardlake, lawyer and one of the Commissioners of the feared ‘Vicar-General
Thomas Cromwell. The so-called ‘Pilgrimage of Grace‘ of the previous summer has
been brutally suppressed and the divide between Catholic and Protestant
supporters is growing wider.

Cromwell dispatches Shardlake and his youngassistant Matthew Poer to the Abbey of Scarnsea on the south coast. Scarnsea isnext on Cromwell’s list for dissolution, but at this stage in the game he cannot simply seize the Abbey and its riches to refill the King’s depleated coffers. The Abbot of Scarnsea must be persuaded that compliance is his best option. One lever at Shardlake’s disposal is the grusome demise of his predecessor at
Scarnsea, one Commissioner Singleton.

Shardlake soon finds that his job is much trickier than even his most pessimistic expectations. Not only must he investigate Singleton’s murder and get the result Cromwell wants, but he must also deal with further murders that plunge him into a morass of murder,
religious hatred, bigotry and sexual tension.

Many reviewers of this book have waxed lyrical about how poorly it compares to Umberto Ecco‘s ‘Name of the Rose’. Yes, both books are set in a monestary but that’s really as far as it
goes. ‘Dissolution’ is set at least two centuries later and deals with a different set of issues entirely. It’s as if someone compared ‘Sherlock Holmes‘ unfavourably with ‘Oliver Twist’ because both are set in London.

Contrary to some other reviewers I found myself drawn to the character of Matthew
Shardlake. He is clearly a man of his time and a true believer in the cause of
reform but he is not without compassion and sympathy for the problems of others.
I look forward to the next in the series…

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