This riveting debut set in 1534 England secured C. J. Sansom’s place “among the most distinguished of modern historical novelists” (P. D. James). When Henry VIII’s emissary is beheaded at an English monastery, hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake is dispatched to solve the crime. But as he uncovers a cesspool of sin, three more murders occur - and Matthew may be the next target.
©2003 C. J. Sansom (P)2011 Recorded Books, LLC
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I didn't think I would enjoy this...after all, a hunchback detective? But, I love it! The narration is wonderful. I must say, however, that the oldest review (2-21-12 by Catherine) partly spoiled it for me by telling us who the murderer is in her review. Jeesh. Why would someone do that? Don't read her review if you want the ending to be a surprise.
... and I am using the word "terrific" in all of its meanings: "big," "excellent," and "terror-inducing." I would not recommend this book to everybody. However, if you have an intellectual bent, an interest in history, and a fondness for the mystery genre, then you will love "Dissolution." I noticed that some earlier reviewers did not like this audiobook, because it moved too slowly for them. "Dissolution" does, indeed, unfold slowly; so if you are looking for a thriller, you can bypass this one. However, if you have the patience to appreciate a beautifully-crafted, intricate, intriguing mystery, then get ready to clean house, do all your ironing, mending, and laundry, and wash the car -- just so you can keep listening to "Dissolution." In fact, some aspects of this novel -- the history part, the dirt part, the cruelty part, and the dark part -- run completely contrary to my own normal tastes in audiobooks. I generally like thrillers packed with action and humor. Yet still, I could not stop listening to "Dissolution": That shows you how well it is written (all the subsequent novels in the Matthew Shardlake series, as well, by the way). Listening to C. J. Sansom's novels feels like watching a gripping movie that engages all the senses -- including smell, touch, and taste. You will learn more about Tudor England than you probably ever wanted to know, and not regret having done so. The title, "Dissolution," has a dual meaning here, referring both to King Henry VIII's dissolution of the Catholic church in England, and the protagonist's gradual disillusionment with his formerly enthusiastic reformist convictions.
I respond emotionally to all of the Matthew Shardlake novels: I keep wondering, "How could people have behaved so cruelly? How could people have borne all that filth? Are humans today still that awful? Am I a totally innocent naïf? Why do we keep getting ourselves into these terrible situations?" Yes, C. J. Sansom's novels make you think. I don't know if he meant to conjure this parallel, but throughout my listening to the Matthew Shardlake series, the similarity between Henry VIII's reign over England and Joseph Stalin's rule over Soviet Russia keeps occurring to me, particularly in the careless destruction of art. In "Dissolution," Henry VIII has commanded destruction all religious artifacts, regardless of their artistic merit. All religious gold was melted down for Henry's coffers, and all religious architecture was destroyed. We are given the picture of a totally, spoiled, self-absorbed, self-indulgent monarch imposing his will on his helpless subjects.
Steven Crossley, the narrator of "Dissolution" and all the subsequent Matthew Shardlake series, does an excellent job. He has a beautiful voice, very good command of accents, and he usually clearly distinguishes the characters from each other. "Dissolution" marks the beginning of the Matthew Shardlake series, so start here. You will want to listen to the subsequent entries in this series.
I don't generally read murder mysteries but bought this book because it centered on a time period I find to be interesting - Tudor England during the reign of King Henry VIII. I thought I might learn something new about the time period and the dissolution of the monasteries while, at the same time, have an interesting murder mystery to solve. The decision was a really good idea.
The murder mystery left me guessing as to who might have committed the grisly crime and the scene of the murder, a Roman Catholic monastery, made the mystery even more interesting. The cast of possible murderers is large enough to make guessing the culprit something of a challenge and I found myself caught up in the lives of the people involved and caring about who committed the crimes and why. That alone would have made this purchase worth while.
But the book also provided enough background information about Tudor England to prove educational without seeming to do so and I learned quite a bit I did not know about the effort to close the church monasteries. All in all this book was good enough for me to recommend it to a friend who does not listen to Audible but does a good deal of reading and to convince me to buy the next book in the sequence.
While the book alone is quite good Steven Crossley's narration only serves to add to the enjoyment I got from listening. The recording is flawless without those sometimes annoying repetitions I find in other audible offerings when the recording was originally done on CDs and transferred to digital.
Highly recommended if someone has any interest in this time period and in murder mysteries in general.
I bought this on a whim because it just sounded like it could be interesting. In fact is was utterly fascinating. The idea of a murder mystery at a monastery 500 years ago in the midst of the English Reformation was something just too far out of the box to grasp. But I'm glad I did.
Sansom takes you on a tour of 16th Century Britain and weaves a masterful tale of murder and intrigue in the backdrop of the religious conflicts between the Roman Church and the emerging Church of England. Politics, Religion, Lust, Greed, Murder and Mystery. A great mix.
Crossley does a magnificent job of narrating the work. 5 stars all around!
I bought this book a long time ago but it never seemed to be the right time to listen to it. I'm quite familiar with the time period and the dissolution of the monasteries, so I knew it was going to be a challenging read, so I delayed. Finally, it clicked on by itself when another book concluded, and I didn't move away. That said, this may not have been the best time to listen to it either.
It's a good book, maybe a great book, but the tale of so much pain and anguish -- mental, physical, spiritual, political -- is just an awful lot to take on with today's world in the shape its in. Today's personal and public pain is different, of course - not many of us will be beheaded or thrown into Newgate for our religious beliefs -- but the spectre of people falling into poverty through no fault of their own, of having their lands taken away, of losing their livelihood and their loved ones echoes across every newspaper. Not much has changed, in that regard. If you're looking for 'uplifting', this isn't the book.
It is a darn good mystery, however. Lots of twists and turns, and a nice long epilogue at the end to tell you what happened to everyone. I like that. It's also historically accurate -- so far as I know, at least. I kept waiting for some literary license, some reconfiguration of the main events, but there wasn't any. The author gets another big plus for that.
That said, I was surprised -- and then distressed -- throughout the first half of the book by Shardlake's apparent unquestioning support for Cromwell, whom we now know to have been seriously evil. Not that the forces on the other side were much better, of course, they might have been worse. But such unflagging support based on nothing but personal acquaintance and loyalty seemed naive at best. Interesting how Sansom cleverly turned Brother Guy, the Moorish convert, into the kind of sympathetic character that the hunchback Shardlake never came to be.
This is another of the times when I wished I belonged to a good book club. I'd love to discuss this book and compare it with Ken Follet's two masterful books, "Pillars of the Earth" and "World without End" -- slightly different time period, of course, but still involved with the monastic life and the villages and people involved with the monasteries. In a nutshell, I'd say that Follet's books were less painful, easier to listen to, but Sansom's book is a far better mystery, with more suspense and tension.
All that said, I did buy two of Sansom's subsequent novels, "Sovereign" and "Dark Fire". Painful or not, these books are worthy reads, a significant step above just plain thrillers.
At first I wasn't sure about this book, but I liked the narrator so I kept listening. I wasn't disappointed. This mystery kept me guessing till the end. It was full of twists and turns and interesting characters. I also enjoied Steven Crossley's narriation which kept me listening.
I really believed Matthew Shardlake, the hunchbacked lawyer's, narration. The story is told from his point of view and I totally bought in.
Not that I know of, but his performance was excellent. I could recognize who was speaking by the voices he used even before the text identified the speaker.
I'm on book four of the series now and I can say the high level of quality has continued.
Is he a dot, or is he a speck? When he's underwater does he get wet? Or does the water get him instead? Nobody knows, Particle man.
I love a good mystery as much as anyone although I don't often read strict mystery stories. I am a fan of historical fiction, however, so this book appealed to me as a convenient way to get back into mystery reading. I have to say I was a bit disappointed. The murder of a king's emissary in a monastery considered for dissolution is plausible enough to get things going, but as the story unfolded I did not find very many sympathetic characters to keep me interested. Our sleuth, Matthew Shardlake, is fairly cast as a complex character, with realistic strengths and foibles, but I found I never really developed much sympathy for him. I found the monastery's infirmist to be the most fascinating character. He had the most exotic and mysterious background of all the characters and was the only one I cared to keep guessing about his role in the whole affair. The other characters seemed a despicable lot I lost all interest in. Their only value seemed to be to cast Shardlake in a better light by contrast.
I didn't care for the narrator, but honestly that seems due more to my taste than his ability. The narration came across as quite proper and formal, only it never seemed to excite me or draw me into the story. The only real fault I can find is with the women's dialog, which seemed to me to be downright comical at times.
As for the historical elements, the story did convey a good sense of the conflict King Henry's reformist policies might have created among his subjects at the time. There was not much in the way of specific historic details about this. It came out mainly in the way the fictional characters thought and behaved. Beyond the basics set out in the beginning of the story, what specific historic details that did come to light came mainly in the second half as Shardlake pursued one avenue of investigation relating to actual figures caught up in recent royal intrigue. That seemed to offer a sweet blend of real facts and literary liberties, and it was the part I found most worthwhile. But in the end I only finished the story to put it behind me. I can't say that it was truly a bad book, but it left me unsatisfied and uninterested in reading any more of the series.
I really liked the history of the time of Chromwell from a different standpoint. To hear of how he started and what motivated him. The politics of the time of Henry VIII.
I did like the performance overall. I just found the accent he gave Brother Guy wrong. Guy was supposed to be a Moor raised in France but Crssley gave him a more Russian sounding accent. I found it distracting.
The book was a good listen. I didn't find it awe inspiring but I enjoyed listening.
I enjoyed this book much more than I expected to. The author is very skilled at weaving the history and culture of the period into the story without inserting long lectures that stop the movement of the story. I liked the main character, Matthew Shardlake, even with his flaws and religious zeal. I hope Brother Guy turns up in a later book, though I agree he sounded Russian rather than Moorish. (I have found the same thing with other narrators trying to do a Middle Eastern accent.)
I considered giving the book a 5 but it could have done with one less murder. And Shardlake did seem to flounder, accusing almost everyone of murder at some point in the story. There weren't many options left by the end.
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