Book Title: Dissolution
Author: CJ Sansom
CJ Sansom’s Dissolution offered great promise. The cover displays glowing statements about the work by P.D.James and Colin Dexter. Certainly, Sansom is able to educate the vocabulary of the reader with use of words such as “obedient” and “lavatorium”. More than once, I needed to search my dictionary as the author is adept at using and reviving obscure words and terms.
This being admitted, I confess to being a little disappointed by Dissolution and this may in part have been due to the lacklustre, almost irritating and self-obsessed main character, Matthew Shardlake. The plot and setting of the novel has appeal. Henry VIII is in the process of dissolving and depopulating England’s Catholic monasteries. One of his emissaries sent to investigate the monastery at Scarnsea is mysteriously murdered and Shardlake is subsequently despatched by the Lord Protector, Thomas Cromwell to both investigate the murder and to shake the foundations of the monastery. He is aided in this task by his young assistant, Mark Poer.
Shardlake’s frequent reflections on his hunch-back and his ruminations on the justness of his cause, do more to irritate the reader than to extrapolate on what the life of such a man may have been like. One never really sees in Shardlake, the vulnerability necessary to make such narrative excesses work.
The most interesting character in the book is that of Brother Jerome, a cousin to royalty and whose account of his torture at the hand of Cromwell’s henchmen, is quite disturbing but provides the novel with the one character strong enough to defy the domineering personality of Shardlake.
Dissolution is a historical murder mystery that highlights an often neglected period and series of incidents in English history. Be warned, however, it is not a “page turner” and many readers may find it quite the opposite.
Dissolution by CJ Sansom is published in Australia by Pan Macmillan Australia.
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