41. Dissolution by C.J. Sansom
Publication: Penguin (Non-Classics) (April 27, 2004), Paperback, 400pp / ISBN 9780142004302
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Read: February 26-27, 2010
Summary from Amazon:
The year is 1537, and the country is divided between those faithful to the Catholic Church and those loyal to the king and the newly established Church of England. When a royal commissioner is brutally murdered in a monastery on the south coast of England, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s feared vicar general, summons fellow reformer Matthew Shardlake to lead the inquiry. Shardlake and his young protégé uncover evidence of sexual misconduct, embezzlement, and treason, and when two other murders are revealed, they must move quickly to prevent the killer from striking again.
First off, I’m not overly familiar with the Tudor era, just the basic stuff when it relates to Queen Elizabeth (who I quite like). And secondly, I know practically nothing about the Reformation, just that Cromwell had something to do with it. So reading Dissolution was a real eye-opener as well as a good mystery!
The mystery actually doesn’t seem as important as the history bits. It’s an excellent historical fiction book– I could really get a sense of what that time period was like for anyone living in it, both rich and poor. By the end of it I knew a lot about the Reformation and I feel much more intelligent for that. I mean, it was a horrible time in history, but everything was horrible back then. I’m just glad I live in this time period, you know?
Anyway, the history stuff was good, and the mystery was pretty good, too. Shardlake was an interesting character– I don’t think I’ve read a book starring a hunchbacked lawyer detective before– with some depth and layers and etc. He only really has the beginnings of a personality, though, and if I wasn’t so absorbed in the historical particulars I think I’d have been really bored. (I heard he gets better in the subsequent books.)
The other characters are fine, though I don’t think their depths were plumbed enough. I think also sometimes Shardlake was being willfully blind to some things, and so he kept going in the wrong direction. He didn’t really figure out the solution until it was nearly over, and that doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in his detecting skills. The ending really annoyed me, too, because, and this is kind of a spoiler, the killer gets away. Bah! I hate when that happens in a mystery! I want retribution! Or at least justice.
The killer getting away does sort of fit in with the overall crappiness of the time period, however, so I suppose it’s alright in that regard. But I don’t have to like it!
So basically: I liked the book, Cromwell was scary, the Reformation was scary, lots of people die but it fits in with the time period, and the detective was unusual but somewhat boring. If you’re a history nut I think you’d like Dissolution a lot, but if you’re a mystery nut you may be slightly disappointed. But it was excellently written, very exciting, and if the characters had some personality problems that can be forgiven in light of the well-researched history stuff.