Saturday 2 March 2013

Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake Book 1) - C.J. Sansom

Title: Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake Book 1)
Author: C.J. Sansom
Genre: Historical Mystery
Published: 2003
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

“Dissolution” by C.J. Sansom is a book that my wife read a couple of years ago and really enjoyed. So when I found out that I needed to read a Historical Mystery novel as part of the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge I decided that it was about time I found out if the book was a good as she had implied.

The plot itself follows Mathew Shardlake, a lawyer in Tudor England and a strong believer in the religious reforms that have spread throughout the country. As one of Thomas Cromwell’s trusted followers, Shardlake is sent to the fictional abbey of Scarnsea to investigate the murder of a commissioner who had been sent there to try and find a manner in which to persuade the monastery surrender its properties and dissolve itself. Whilst there he unveils many other secrets and mysteries but continues with great determination to both find the murderer and ensure the monastery is closed for good.

I found this book to be a well-crafted and entertaining Tudor mystery, full of enjoyable twists and turns that kept me guessing right until the end. As someone who doesn’t read a huge amount of Historical Fiction, I was more than happy to see that Sansom strikes a good balance between the historical setting and entertaining fiction. Basically, he doesn’t get bogged down in trying to showcase various elements of Tudor England; at its heart the novel is an enjoyable mystery with a historical element that is used to add extra depth to the plot.

In regards to the historical setting, I found that the world created by Sansom seemed to pulse with life; there is brutality, despair, fear and turmoil aplenty as the society tries to survive the great sweeping changes that King Henry has unleashed. In addition I found Shardlake himself to be a character who consistently acts like a man of his time period, full of bigotry, prejudice and a belief in the different levels of society. At times this can make him a little bit hard to like, but as long as you accept the fact he has been shaped by his society and he is zealous in his belief that he is helping to build a better future then you should be able to accept him for who he is.

I found the world he has written about pulsed with life, the brutality and degradation, the despair and fear, the struggles and unrest all whirled round in a great turmoil of a society being changed irrevocably. The reign of Henry resulted in far more changes than just a wife or two and this rumbling underground, gradually heading towards the surface is well captured by the prose and plot of 'Dissolution'.

In regards to the language, I did note that whilst there were a few nods to the period in question overall the writing all felt relatively modern. I wish to highlight this as I know that some readers dislike this less authentic feeling when reading a period novel. Personally however, I would much rather be able to easily jump into the story than get bogged down trying to work my way through the language as it may have been used during that period in our history.

Overall, I found this to be a really enjoyable and interesting mystery novel that does a good job in trying to capture the world and characters of the Tudor period. As someone who doesn’t normally read this genre of book, I can’t honestly say if regular readers will enjoy the book. However, if you are someone wanting to try out the genre then I can’t recommend this book highly enough as an entertaining introduction to Historical Mysteries.

1 comment:

  1. I like the Shardlake books. I wonder if he will get a lift from Hilary Mantel's success with the same period of time? If you're looking for another one, my favorite Shardlake was DARK FIRE, which I lied for its information on ancient warfare and its ability to weave so many different story lines together.

    I know what you mean about language. If it were truly Tudor English, it would be very difficult to read, so I prefer it when the author goes for a sort of neutral, slightly more formal-speak, rather than trying to replicate the period. But no modern idioms! "I'm OK with that" does not belong in historical novels. Luckily, Sansom never does that.