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Dissolution Hardcover – April 28, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 390 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1ST edition (April 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670032034
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670032037
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (219 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,077,763 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Murders on the grounds of a monastery, 16th-century intrigue, an unconventional sleuth-readers might wonder if this is a knock-off Name of the Rose set two centuries later, but Sansom's debut is a compelling historical mystery in its own right, with fewer pyrotechnics and plenty of period detail. It is 1537; the English Reformation is in full swing; and Lord Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII's vicar-general, is busy shutting down papist institutions. When one of his commissioners is beheaded at a remote Benedictine monastery, Cromwell dispatches a second emissary, hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake, to investigate the murder. What Shardlake and his companion, eager young Mark Poer, discover is a quietly bubbling cesspool of corruption, lust and avarice. The scope of the investigation quickly expands when a novice is poisoned and Shardlake finds the remains of a girl who served the monks in the monastery pond. Shardlake presses on by testing the alibis of the various corrupt monks, but Poer's objectivity is compromised when he becomes involved with the girl's successor, a bright, attractive woman named Alice Fewterer. As the investigation unfolds, Shardlake survives a murder attempt, and finally returns to London to tie his findings to higher-level intrigue. Sansom paints a vivid picture of the corruption that plagued England during the reign of Henry VIII, and the wry, rueful Shardlake is a memorable protagonist, a compassionate man committed to Cromwell's reforms, but increasingly doubtful of the motives of his fellow reformers. With this cunningly plotted and darkly atmospheric effort, Sansom proves himself to be a promising newcomer.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

It is 1537, and Thomas Cromwell is charged with protecting the newborn Church of England. So when one of his commissioners is murdered in a monastery, he sends his sharpest lawyer to investigate. A debut from (you guessed it) former lawyer Sansom.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Well written, good mystery, very interesting history.
Kideyes
Sansom writes well, provides some depth to his characters, and draws us convincingly into his historical period.
J. Eric Schonblom
Nonetheless, I would definitely recommend the book, and look forward to reading the second in the series.
Barbara S. Vidal

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

146 of 149 people found the following review helpful By frumiousb VINE VOICE on October 28, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The cover of Dissolution is festooned with glowing praise from writers such as P.D. James and Colin Dexter. This praise overcame my natural allergy to historical mysteries and led me to buy the book. I was not disappointed.

Dissolution is a surprisingly quick read for such a long book. It flows smoothly. The combination of skilled plotting and historical detail is a winning one. The length of the book is tricky to pull off. However, I believe that the complex nature of the subject would have been difficult to tackle in less time.

Dissolution is as much an investigation of personal faith as it is an investigation of a murder. Matthew Shardlake is not only uncovering who killed Robin Singleton, he is also finding some deep pools of unease within himself at the methods and motivations of his beloved Reformation. While a whodunnit could have been covered in half the time, the themes of history and faith would have been short-changed had Sansom skimped on the background.

Mystery writing at its best is often an exploration of cynicism and loss of innocence. Like any good Noir detective, Shardlake begins his career as an idealist. This book is his fall from belief into a bitter awareness of corruption. If Sansom picks up this thread and continues with it, then the readers should benefit from a very interesting series indeed.

Dissolution suffers from a few first novel flaws. For instance, Cromwell is awfully forthcoming about his scheming. It was not necessary for Shardlake to get a confession from him to believe that Shardlake could have his faith badly shaken. This and a few other minor missteps seem like artifacts of a writer who does not yet trust his own material. None of these things are flaws that should dissuade you from reading the book.

This book should appeal to fans of more literary mystery writers such as James, historical fiction fans, and armchair historians. Highly recommended.
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73 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Frank J. Konopka VINE VOICE on June 13, 2004
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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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Ellis Bell VINE VOICE on June 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
In 1537, having divorced his first wife and marrying a second, Henry VIII proceeded to close down the monasteries, which were a symbol of the power of the Catholic Church. This move was instrumental in the shaping of English society and politics during the 16th century. Although Henry had caused the Reformation in England to take place merely because he wanted an heir, he soon found that, like Martin Luther, there were problems with Catholicism- not the least of which was that the clergy were living much better than they ought to have. Their standard of living was so much higher than the average laypersons' that monks and their servants were living very long lives- sometimes into their eighties and nineties, uncommonly long for anyone to live in the 16th century. Dissolution refers to not only the process by which the monasteries were dissolved, but the process by which lives in England were irrevocably changed by the reformation. The dissolution of the monasteries left monks without a home, severed from the life most had known their entire lives.

A commissioner working in the name of Thomas Cromwell goes to oversee the closing of the monastery at Scarnsea- and is mysteriously murdered, his head cleanly sliced off with a sword. Matthew Shardlake, hunchback lawyer at Chancery in London and deputy to Cromwell, is sent to investigate the murder. He believes that the murderer is someone within the monastic community. Before leaving London, however, Shardlake encounters someone selling parrots, those bird which repeat things that are told to them. They are not unlike the political situation in England: people repeat back what the king wants to hear. Anything that is "wrong," however, can be viewed as treasonous.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on July 20, 2005
Format: Paperback
"You should have seen this house just five years ago, before the king's divorce. Everything ordered and secure. Prayer and devotion, the summer timetable then the winter, unchanging, centuries old. The Benedictines have given me such a life as I could never have had in the world; a ship's chandler's son raised to abbot." He gave a sad flicker of a smile. "It's not just myself I mourn for, Commissioner; it's the tradition, the life. Already these last two years order has started to break down. We all used to have the same beliefs, think the same way, but already the reforms have brought discord, disagreement. And now murder. Dissolution," he whispered. "Dissolution"

It's 1537 and the king's divorce is, of course, Henry VIII's, which brought with it the disestablishment of the Catholic Church in England. Now, Henry and his vicar general, Thomas Cromwell, having survived the rebellion led by Robert Aske, are dissolving Church properties and adding their wealth to the royal treasury. But they require legal pretexts for doing so. When a royal commissioner is murdered while looking for such cause in the monastery of Scarnsea, Cromwell sends his fellow reformer Matthew Shardlake, "the sharpest hunchback in the courts of England," to investigate the killing and shut the place down.

The book is kind of a Name of the Rose for the rest of us. The theological and political conflicts at its core are far more accessible to a modern reader and the questions it raises, like those in the paragraph above, still haunt. If the zealous Shardlake finds much of the corruption he expects to find in a Papist institution, he is also given cause to doubt the very Reformationist project he serves.
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