Dissolution is one of those immaculate novels where the reader is immersed in history, not that history is a heavy cloak, but where the author brings a period in time to life and the pages are saturated in historical details which makes the time period in question even more vivid. C. J. Sansom works magic in Dissolution. I could actually feel the stigma of being a hunchback, as the main character is, feel the mud of a cold November road cling to my shoes, and feel the warmth of a well-stoked fire in an otherwise stone cold room.
The relevant time-period is 1537 and for once, the plot line is not Henry VIII and his capricious love affairs, leaving many a wife dead. Henry has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church, and Thomas Cromwell implements new laws and the following terrorizing regime of trails both swiftly and without compromise. One order of business is ensuring the obedience of the monasteries and the building of wealth through the monasteries’ concession to the crown. A commissioner is found dead at the monastery of Scarnsea, and Cromwell sends the hunchback Shardlake to investigate and quickly bring the monastery to order.
Shardlake is an interesting main character. He has risen from an agricultural background to become a lawyer and supporter of reform. His physical handicap plays an interesting role. It is the reason why he could not continue in his father’s footsteps, but it also makes him the odd man out of the legal community. It makes Shardlake’s observant role believable and also his timidity and shame about his physicality. Shardlake is a man and he is flawed, but he believes in the pure and true reform. During the story, his belief is tested and Shardlake understand that the means to bring about this true, righteous reform are not true and righteous themselves.
The monastery of Scarnsea is a major character in Dissolution. It has lost its initial importance as the waterway to Scarnsea has evolved into a bog, but the monastery gains new importance with the murder of the commissioner and the order to concede the monastery’s wealth to the crown. The monastery’s inhabitants have their secrets, more or less hidden, that come to the surface during Shardlake’s investigation.
I would recommend Dissolution to history buffs and lovers of murder mysteries. It is truly phenomenal! I have already spoken of the historical detail and the murder mystery is exquisite. Yes, Dissolution is one of those rare novels that have it all. Read it and love it – and fortunately you have the opportunity to return to the world according the Shardlake, as Dissolution is the first novel in a series.