Tuesday, January 5, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Dissolution. A Novel of Tudor England by C.J. Sansom

I’m starting off the new year with a historical novel! Also, it was a library book so I’m kicking off two challenges with one book.

I’ve seen many novels authored by C.J. Sansom over the years, but had yet to read one. Since I’ve been reading more historical mysteries/thrillers recently, I decided it was time to give this author a try. I started with Dissolution. A Novel of Tudor England.

This is a dark book that plunges the reader into a world torn apart by the machinations of King Henry VIII and his able henchman, Lord Cromwell. Henry needs money and property to bind men to him, and Cromwell needs to consolidate his position of power, no matter the means. Although ostensibly a reformer (anti-papist, anti-Catholic), any ideals Cromwell may once have possessed have been stripped from him in the pursuit of his goals.

The hunchbacked lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, is one of Cromwell’s men. Shardlake is an avid reformer, with reasons of his own for turning against the Church. However, Shardlake is sincere in his zeal for reform. He understands that the country must go through a difficult time, but he believes a more ideal society will emerge at the end of it all. He believes the king and Cromwell will be just and fair, eventually, and that the common people will be better off. He believes this despite all evidence to the contrary.

Shardlake is sent to the monastery at Scarnsea, a once powerful house that has been diminished by the recent travails and by reports of corruption and sexual misconduct. Cromwell wants the abbey dissolved, but he wants the monks to voluntarily agree to this. He previously sent a commissioner named Singleton to pressure the monks, but word came from Singleton’s assistant that the commissioner was foully murdered. Shardlake is sent in to discover the murderer, clean up the mess, and get the abbey to fold.

Shardlake reluctantly sets off for Scarnsea, his handsome young ward Mark in tow. Although indebted to Shardlake, and generally deferential, Mark has a mind of his own. He sees things for what they are and is not as invested in reform as Shardlake is.

The abbey is a mess. The longer they stay, the more complex the riddle. Too many of the monks have reason to wish Singleton dead, and now Shardlake, too. But there is no proof of anything. And then, the murders multiply. It’s a complicated case and Cromwell is not a patient man.

Dissolution provides a satisfying murder mystery, but there is more to the story than the murder plot. Shardlake is a flawed but sympathetic character, who is forced to examine his own motives and that of the movement he so strongly believes in as he comes face to face with the horrible consequences of Cromwell’s reform. Solving the murder is the least of Shardlake’s problems.

This was book one of this series, and I’m sure I’ll be back for more.

(If you like this, I’d also recommend the wonderful book, Love’s Alchemy by Bryan Crockett.)

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