Review of ‘Dissolution’ by C. J. Sansom

138685C J Samson’s murder mystery set at the heart of England’s troubled period during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries poses a serious challenge to the other great pseudonymal medieval murder mystery author, Susanna Gregory and also inevitably takes on that great hallmark, The Name of the Rose.
If you’re a fan of the latter’s Matthew Bartholomew Chronicles, this opener with our sleuth, Matthew Shardlake, will not disappoint you. With the imminent `Dark Fire’ promising a series then this is one novel you will not waste your time on.
It is 1537, and Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer in the pay of Thomas Cromwell, vicar-general, is sent south to Scarnsea to investigate the decapitation of the King’s Commissioner, Robert Singleton. In tow is the son of his father’s farm steward, Mark, whose previous amorous adventures have seen his standing in the courts plummet. It is a time of major canonical and secular upheaval as Henry VIII seeks to divorce himself from the papacy with the infamous dissolution of the monasteries and our protagonists are firmly behind the star ascendant of Thomas Cromwell.
After arriving at Scarnsea the inclement weather forces our blinkered sleuth to remain at the monastery for several days as his view that he merely has to ask in order to obtain the truth proves somewhat naive. With the torturously mad Carthusian monk, Brother Jerome, Prior Mortimus, Abbot Fabian, Sacrist Brother Gabriel, the infirmian, brother Guy and several other assorted ecclesiastical characters plus the peripheral events from the townsfolk such as Justice Copynger, Shardlake finds himself weaving through several tales where everyone has a hidden agenda a deep of mistrust of his high-handed methods of investigation.
Eventually, there are three murders to solve, Singleton’s, Simon Whelplay’s and Orphan Stonegarden’s.
Mixed in is a silted pond, altar desecration, sordid tales, swords and Mark Poer’s burgeoning desire for Alice, the only female onsite. The lot comes together after a rapid return to London which turns our murders into effects of far greater political upheaval as Matthew Shardlake is forced to also confront the fact that his master’s character is not as pure as he thought it might be.
C J Samson’s opener is rather good, actually. The plot is concise, the narrative tight and logical, the characterisation entirely plausible and human. Matthew Shardlake lacks a little empathy and is somewhat naive and comes across as enjoying his power a little too much whilst mildly embittered with his lot in life.
All in all a fine effort..

Categories: Book Reviews, C J Sansom

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