Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

I really enjoyed Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose which is a mystery set in an Italian abbey in the 1300s.  After having a conversation about Eco’s tome, one of our library members recommended that I pick up Dissolution, the first in the Matthew Shardlake mystery series as a possible read-alike.

Set in 16th century England, the story takes place during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, shortly following the 1531 decree that made Henry VIII the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Within a scant five years of this declaration, he was hard at work disbanding all monasteries and convents in England, Wales, and Scotland and removing their funding and property. Under the direction of Thomas Cromwell, minister to the King and one of the greatest advocates of the English Reformation, visits were made to each of the religious houses to ensure that certain religious rites were no longer being practiced and to instruct religious leaders in their duty to obey the King and reject papal authority.

Enter the fictional tale of Matthew Shardlake, a hunchbacked lawyer, who is sent by Thomas Cromwell to investigate the murder of a royal commissioner at a monastery near the southern coast of England. Together with his assistant Mark Poer, Shardlake arrives at the monastery only to discover that the mysteries there lay deeper than just murder. The two quickly begin to uncover a web of deceit, cover-ups, and corruption.

The story is fast-paced, and the glimpse into the secrets of monastery life made for a compelling read. I haven’t picked up any others in the Matthew Shardlake series yet, but at some point I’ll check out the second title by C.J. Sansom, Dark Fire.

Dissolution was nominated for two awards from the Crime Writers’ Association in 2003 – the  John Creasey Memorial Dagger and Ellis Peters Historical Dagger.

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