July 25, 2015

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

Title:  Dissolution
Author:  C. J. Sansom
Pages:  390
Genre:  Mystery, Historical
Publisher:  Viking, 2003
The Bible says God made man in his image but I think we make and remake him, in whatever image happens to suit our shifting needs.
Synopsis:  It is the winter of 1537 and England is divided into those faithful to the Catholic Church and those loyal to the King and the newly established Church of England. Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's feared vicar-general, crusades against the old Church with savage new laws, rigged trials, and a vast network of informers. Queen Anne Boleyn has been beheaded and monasteries are being dissolved-their treasures pillaged and their lands eyed greedily by courtiers and country gentry. But having put down one people's rebellion, Cromwell fears another might topple the realm. So, when one of his commissioners is murdered in the monastery at Scarnsea on the south coast of England, he enlists his fellow reformer, Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer renowned as "the sharpest hunchback in the courts of England," to head the inquiry.

When Shardlake and his young clerk and protégé, Mark Poer, arrive at Scarnsea, the two are greeted with thinly veiled hostility and suspicion as their investigation quickly uncovers evidence of sexual misconduct, embezzlement, and treason. While the community of brothers is revealed to be far less pious than they would seem, Shardlake himself is shocked to discover truths about Cromwell that undermine his own beliefs and threaten to cost him his faith, and even his life. But when a novice is poisoned and a year-old corpse dredged up from a nearby pond, Shardlake must act quickly to prevent the killer from murdering again.

Review:  I have always been in love with the Middle Ages.  I love stories about the Black Plague, monasteries, kings, queens, Knights Templar, and King Arthur.  This book reminds me a little of the Eleanor of Aquitaine series by Sharon Kay Penman, but only because they, too, are mysteries set in the Medieval Period, although the Penman books are set about 400 years earlier.  I even had a few flashbacks to that old Sean Connery movie, The Name of the Rose, but mostly because it, too, was a mystery set in a monastery.

Dr. Shardlake is an unusual hero.  A lawyer, a hunchback, and stout believer in the Reformation, he is investigating a murder on behalf of Thomas Cromwell.  He is not always a completely likable man, but he is honest and honorable, if perhaps a little blind when it comes to seeing what his benefactor Cromwell is really like.

I was so sure I knew who'd done it.  Absolutely positive.  It had to be Prior Mortimus, who was so hateful and mean and obviously hiding something.  I was wrong.  I never would have guessed the answer to the chain of murders at the Monastery of St. Donatus the Ascendant of Scarnsea.  That in itself made the book good.  But, along with that, the story was well told and the descriptions of Medieval life are terribly, yet also beautifully, realistic.

I have three more of these books.  I'm not going to read them all at once.  I'd get burnt out.  But, I think I will read another one.  I'm not ready to wave farewell to Dr. Shardlake just yet.

Rating:  8 / 10

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