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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
Freelance journalist, now living in Israel. Audible books listener for 30 years, when I had to pretend to be blind to get access.
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.
The Path Between the Seas to The Great Bridge ~ Kagan's Peloponnesian War to Gaddis' Cold One ~ Mornings on Horseback to a River of Doubt ~ Tom to Huck ~ Lennie to Charley ~ Cadfael to Cross ~ Rhyme to Reacher ~ Blomkvist and Salander to Wallander and Wallander ~ Moving Cheese or Eating Frogs ~ On the Road and Into Thin Air ~ The End of History to A Short History of Everything to ... well ... everything else.
Dissolution is both a great success and a modest failure.
With most mysteries today, the plot is king. Characters are largely set, the world is one we know (and usually one we live in) and our payoff, as readers and listeners, comes from an engaging story.
This is NOT the case with Dissolution. Here, the plot is probably the weakest element of the novel. As a murder mystery, Dissolution is a longish tale that occasionally drags. The plot does not so much build to a conclusion as lurch from one to another until the ultimate one is reached. I suppose this is ultimately satisfying, but the listener endures a lot to achieve a relatively modest satisfaction. Were this a stand-alone novel, I am not certain I would recommend it.
But this is not a one-off. This is the start of a series and the introduction of a new detective ~ Matthew Shardlake. In this introduction, Sansom is much more successful, offering us a complex and evolving character ~ a lawyer-detective who is, by turns, fragile and persevering, prejudiced and reasoning, cowardly and animated by fury. In short, Shardlake is very realistic and very human; a prickly protagonist it will take at least one more tale to embrace fondly.
Listen to this audiobook, then, as an introduction to Matthew Shardlake. And even more, listen to it as in introduction to Shardlake's world and times.
Here this audiobook is definitely worth the listen. Ably narrated by Steven Crossley, Dissolution envelops us in the inevitably corrupt English Reformation (reform motivated by sexual avarice and carried out by bureaucrats is almost predestined to be corrupt) and in the world of Tudor England with its despotism, petty bureaucracy, abuse of power, and religious fanaticism. Sansom is an historian and we benefit as he applies those skills to this tale.
Allow yourself and Sansom's descriptions will remind you that the everyday spies and informers and high-handed officials of 16th Century England created a climate there not very different from that of 1930s Germany or the 1950s Soviet Union. Listen to his description of the fanatical destruction of centuries-old religious icons and manuscripts and relics and buildings and you will be reminded of similar atrocities we hear of much more recently in Taliban Afghanistan or Ansar Dine Timbuktu.
This is Matthew Shardlake's world, and it will be fascinating to watch him navigate it. Dissolution sets the scene for more entertaining tales to come. If you are prepared to make the investment here, the real payoff, I suspect, will come in future volumes.
Truth be told, I wasn't thrilled with this book. Like other reviewers I found myself not so much interested in Shardlake but drawn to Brother Guy instead. But... here's the deal, listen to this book to get a feel for Shardlake, where he's coming from and the time period and then listen to the rest of the series. It gets really good. I found I had to time myself listening to the rest of the series to make sure I always had a credit available when I finished one so I could start the next right away. This book is pretty simplistic, but the others bring out Shardlake in a more interesting way and we get intoduced to a great "side kick" and for those of us that like Brother Guy, he stays with us along the ride. So although this book is by far the least interesting in the series, I wouldn't suggest skipping it. And for those of you that didn't like this book, Really, give the next book a try, it's 100% better.
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