Dissolution is the first book from CJ Sansom in the Matthew Shardlake series, set during the reign of King Henry VIII and his Chief Minister, Thomas Cromwell. The Catholic Church in 1536 is being eradicated in Britain and the Dissolution of the monasteries has begun – by 1540 no monasteries would be left. The tensions in the country are high between those loyal to King Henry and those to the Catholic Church. Cromwell, himself is under scrutiny since his alliance with the now beheaded Ann Boleyn.
Shardlake is summoned to Thomas Cromwell’s office and assigned to investigate the death of one of Cromwell’s agents in St Donatus monastery at Scarnsea. The agent is beheaded, which in itself, seems to be a message of some significance. Shardlake is an intelligent astute lawyer, that suffers physical deformity as a hunchback, which creates a perception that somehow he is incapable, and wouldn’t that be a mistake. Shardlake sets off for Scarnsea with his assistant Mark Poer.
The historical nature and tone of the story are fabulously written and the attention to detail in dialogue and descriptions provides a wonderful atmosphere to enjoy this historical whodunit. Shardlake is a brilliant central character providing that astonishing logic that makes this novel intriguing and captivating as he delicately investigates the murder at the monastery. He knows only success will placate Cromwell and the dynamics of the political and religious tensions are palpable.
I would highly recommend this book as a murder mystery, and Sansom understands the Tudor period so well that you feel the foreign and basic life of the period surround you. Sansom has created a character that will run for quite a while.