Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake) by C J Sansom

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Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake) by C J Sansom

Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The first in the acclaimed Matthew Shardlake series and one not to be missed. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 300 Date: May 2007
Publisher: Pan Books
ISBN: 978-0330450799

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In 1537 England was undergoing more changes than at any time since 1066. The king – Henry VIII – proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church and the country was suffering from savage new laws, trials were rigged and an extensive network of informers meat that people didn’t know where it was safe to speak. A team of commissioners under Thomas Cromwell was moving around the country investigating the monasteries. The wise know that there can only be one outcome and that is dissolution. On the Sussex coast at the monastery of Scarnsea Cromwell’s commissioner, Robin Singleton, was murdered – his head severed from his body – and if this was not enough there were other sinister acts of sacrilege.

Matthew Shardlake supported Reform – the principles appealed to his lawyerly mind – and he was sent by Cromwell to investigate Singleton’s death and to replace him as a commissioner. It’s the depths of winter and Shardlake has truly been presented with a poisoned chalice. His investigations will put him in danger and force him to rethink everything that he believes.

Each of the Matthew Shardlake novels reads well as a stand-alone but because there is an ongoing story in the series your enjoyment of these books can be reduced if you read them out of chronological order. You will know that someone plays a prominent part in a future story and thus cannot really be a serious suspect in the current investigation – or you’ll realise from the fact that someone doesn’t appear in other novels that they’re not going to see this story out. They’re small spoilers, but these books are brilliant and it’s a great pity to reduce your enjoyment of them.

And the books are brilliant – certainly the best historical crime which I’ve read. This book is the first in the series and lays the ground for all the future novels, but there’s no obvious exposition and Sansom uses his extensive knowledge with a lightness of touch which is impressive. There’s all he background there, but no sense that every little bit of research has been shoe-horned in – in fact you sense quite the reverse. The plot too is excellent – I really didn’t see the ending coming and had someone else chalked in as the murderer. There’s not a superfluous word in the book and it’s one which you really shouldn’t miss.

If this book appeals then you’ll almost certainly enjoy The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir.

C J Sansom's Matthew Shardlake Novels in Chronological Order

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Buy Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake) by C J Sansom at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake) by C J Sansom at Amazon.com.


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