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Dissolution Paperback – 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics) (2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142004308
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142004302
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.8 x 19.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 363 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,110,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Format: Hardcover
The novel centers on murders at a monastery of the south coast
of England in 1537. Henry VIII is head of the Church in England,
and is taking over ("dissolving") much of the property and wealth
of the Catholic Church. Thomas Cromwell (the Vicar General of
England) sends Matthew Shardlake to Scarnsea to investigate the
murder of Cromwell's previous emissary Shardlake, who is a
hunchback, also must look into other murders as well at the
The primary interest here is in the historical period, and the
view of political and religious matters. Anne Boleyn's beheading
occurred in 1536 on trumped-up charges of adultery, and Thomas
More was beheaded in 1535 for refusing to acknowledge the
religious primacy of Henry. Many Catholic clergy went to the
scaffold; others were racked until they renounced their faith in
favor of Henry. The novel presents a good glimpse of life in
this time of transition.
As a mystery, this is not Agatha Christie; as a look at religious
matters, this is not The Name of the Rose. The characters do not
have a richness of depth, and the overall writing is good, but
not lyrical. Read it as a good historical novel, not as a great
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Format: Paperback
DISSOLUTION, C.J. Sansom, Viking, 2003, pp.390

This excellent novel takes place in 1536 England in the middle of the Reformation. King Henry VIII has just executed Anne Boleyn, his wife, and the supposed young lover who becomes the unwitting raison d'être of the story. The Vicar General, Thomas Cromwell, assigns Mathew Shardlake the task of uncovering the murder of a commissioner sent to St. Donatus Monastery. The Reformers wanted all the monasteries dissolved but rather than the former methods of brutal force, wanted the abbots to surrender them over peacefully.
The monasteries were loyal to Rome (papists), the lives of the monks had deteriorated far beyond their original austere rule and in fact were filled with scandal. Though they had reluctantly agreed to the new set of Cromwell rules, many surreptitiously carried on as before. Things such as: praying before a statue; latin in prayers; offerings made to relics; use of candles and the most irritating ' belief in purgatory ' were all now anathema. Sansom dwells often on the issue of purgatory delving into both sides of the argument. Cromwell's true purpose in dissolution was to increase the King's treasury and the acquisition of monastery lands and wealth. This was no hidden fact. The abuse revolving around dissolution was even more scandalizing than the monks behaviour.
The above is the current atmosphere into which Shardlake must find a killer and complete the job of surrendering. Sansom is adept at casting suspicions on each character and into deepening the plot. Just when things are close to be solved, he complicates the solution with another mystery or disaster. Shardlake ends up investigating more than one murder and is also in danger himself.
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Format: Hardcover
Since Ellis Peters' passing, I didn't expect to read any new good murder mysteries set in English monasteries. Thankfully, I was wrong, as I thoroughly enjoyed this work by a new author. This book takes place centuries after Brother Cadfael's time, when the British monasteries were falling into the corrupt lifestyle of the pre-Reformation Catholic Church. Of course, Henry VIII's dispute over his wished for divorce sped things along, and the new officials who arose in their master's wake were for Reform, and wished to close the monasteries, as symbols of the "papist" devils. Our intrepid hero goes to a large monastery on the coast to strong arm the abbott into surrendering his monastery to the crown, after his predecessor was murdered there. The plot deepens when two other murders occur, and our hero and his assistant must work diligently to discover "whodunnit", from a list of several likely suspects. There are religious discussions, traces of disillusionment in some of the characters, and all in all quite an exciting tale from beginning to end. I look forward quite eagerly to further books from this author.
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By Toni Osborne TOP 100 REVIEWER on May 26 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Book 1, in the Matthew Shardlake series

Set in the 16th century during the dissolution of the monasteries. This first story features lawyer Matthew Shardlake and follows him in his attempts to solve the murder of one of Thomas Cromwell’s commissioners in the monastery at Scarnsea on the south coast of England. The period is shortly after the beheading of Anne Boleyn and during the religious revolution. “Dissolution” is elegantly written and is a riveting portrayal of Tudor England.

At first this novel seems to be your classic whodunit, a fairly standard murder-mystery genre which includes bizarre and grisly murder, some red herrings, a few twists and a lot of suspense, of course a little bit of romance to boot. But reading along you fast discover that the vivid backdrop of Cromwell’s war against the monasteries, all the tension between the Papists and the Reformers that brew throughout the pages, the remorseless portrait of a violent and the terrifying business of encountering the king and authorities are so brilliantly done to place this novel in a league of its own. The narrative style is competently handled by the well-rounded Shardlake in a straightforward prose using words as true to the era as possible. A sub plots has a subtle love triangle nicely done and others are weaves effortlessly into the main plot to tease us till the gasping ending.

This is one atmospheric novel I enjoyed quite a bit and looking forward to “Dark Fire” its sequel.
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