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Publisher's Summary

Dissolution: the first book in the best-selling Shardlake series. It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066.

Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church. The country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers ever seen. And under the orders of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent throughout the country to investigate the monasteries.

There can only be one outcome: dissolution. But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell's Commissioner, Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege.

Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell to uncover the truth behind the dark happenings at Scarnsea. But investigation soon forces Shardlake to question everything that he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes....

©2003 C. J. Sansom (P)2014 Pan Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

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  • Hannah
  • 12-01-14

Time Travellers Beware.....

What made the experience of listening to Dissolution the most enjoyable?

This novel is so well written that you are immediately sucked into the turbulent world of Tudor England and the dissolution of the monasteries. Prior to this I had not read much historical fiction set within this period - preferring true history to fiction - however through the use of Shardlake's role as lawyer and his outsider status derived from his hunch back Sansom is able to present the whole scale of Tudor society rather than focusing solely on the highest classes. Real insight is therefore given into the lives of ordinary people and new perspectives on the upper classes than those shown in the non-fiction I have read.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Shardlake himself I think - despite a tendency to appraise all women as either 'pretty' or 'not-pretty' he is a very human character. His sympathies may sometimes seem a little out of sync with the historical time in which he lives but, by suspending ones disbelief, this only serves to make his character more endearing.

Which character – as performed by Steven Crossley – was your favourite?

Although yet to appear until later in the series; Barrack (not sure that's spelt correctly - one problem with audio reading) was performed so well by Steven Crossley. Although, speaking of the entire series, I did notice that the narrator changes his style completely by book 4 - so much so I was convinced the novels were no longer being performed by Steven Crossley. I cannot understand why this was done as it interrupted the flow of the series somewhat while I tried to get used to the new character voices.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Peter Weatherby
  • 02-21-15

Excellent historical & mystery drama

I enjoyed this immensely. The historical background is well drawn and the issues and ideas at stake are dealt with clearly and with suitable accuracy. The writing has just enough idiom from the time to make the narrative convincing, and the performance exploits this to the full. I am no a great fan of Shardlake!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Carolyn
  • 07-21-15

A compelling story

What did you like most about Dissolution?

I enjoyed the balance of period writing and whodunnit story. The historical elements add interest but never take over the story.

What about Steven Crossley’s performance did you like?

He really brought to life the character of Matthew Shardlake and provided distinctive voices for the other characters, too. He provides a menacing voice for Thomas Cromwell which helps to evoke the fear that pervaded that period.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Robyn
  • 03-27-15

Interesting history

A well researched historical novel. The editors write up will give you the timeline, so I won't go into that here. It's an interesting window onto this period in our history, and I learned a good few things.

Well written, well narrated, and although somewhat predictable, it's still to be recommended if historical novels are your thing.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Paul D
  • 03-07-17

Hilary Mantel meets Umberto Eco

Historical crime drama, another Shardrake novel. Interesting and very well researched. My first but not my last and I will look for more in the series but not for a while

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Philip
  • 06-01-16

Shardlake rules!

An intriguing and frightening vision of Tudor England!!! Shardlake is an excellent character and the plotting is superb. I was completely immersed. If you've never read C.J.Sansom, start with this. Steven Crossley's narration is absolutely spot on.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-18-18

addictive monotone

The story was great; the voice was sadly monotone. I would certainly listen to the trilogy as the characters are richly bought out and are worth following. Also, the description of the islands is very good. I just wish the reader were more dynamic in his acting.

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  • ceecee
  • 07-15-18

Very good read

Excellent read. Good descriptive detail takes you right there. Another great sansom read. I've read them all but listening takes you right to the centre.

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  • S. E. James
  • 07-12-18

A very enjoyable story well read.

The novel gives great insight into the political issues of the time. I look forward to listening to the others book in the series.
The narrator was excellent giving believable characterisation to the people in the story.

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  • Timy
  • 06-28-18

Dissolution is a masterfully woven mystery

The story sets off right after Anne Boleyn is executed. Reformists are going strong, and the Catholic Church lost its power, monasteries are forced to accept the King’s supremacy, that they have to keep masses in english and generally bow down to reforms. Those who refuse are executed, their lands and wealth are taken, their buildings are brought down. But it’s not enough. Lord Cromwell wants to see all the monasteries gone and nothing can keep him from reaching that goal. He is cunning, ruthless, and uses the reforms to gain his own personal interests – namely to stay in the good will of King Henry VIII. When he realises force won’t work anymore to close down the monasteries, he sends his agents to inspect every little detail of the monks’ life, their finances, and if they follow the laws. Their goal is to find anything incriminating which would make the abbots sign their doom so those loyal to the King could get even more rich.

Things are going well, until, that is, one of the agents, Singleton is murdered in Scarnsea. Cromwell needs someone who can solve the mystery fast and quietly, so he sends one of his loyal friends and follower, the lawyer Matthew Shardlake. He is a clever, quick thinking man, who sincerely believes in the reforms and the men holding power over the government. He is also an unconventional protagonist – he is a hunchback. Feared, looked down and mocked in his whole life, although that doesn’t stop him to be a respectable, humble man who is good in his chosen profession. He and his protégé has to solve the mystery shrouding Scarnsea, but the monks and the killer doesn’t make it easy for them. Which starts as a single murder case, turns into several murder cases while they have to deal with the monks petty fights, their own survival and their clash of views.

The story takes place mostly in the monastery, a closed, full-of-secrets world, where almost everyone has a reason to commit such crimes in hope they could keep up their secluded, luxury lives the monastery provides them with. Shardlake has to figure out which leads are right and which take him to the wrong path. He also learns some uncomfortable truths about people he believed in blindly, which shakes his world. Does Cromwell truly believe in the reforms or they just want to please his king? Can he keep a straight head when his emotions are conflicted? Will his judgement be clouded by friendship or prejudice?

Dissolution is a masterfully woven mystery, which keeps you guessing until the end. The characters are alive and very real, you almost feel like they would walk off the pages anytime. They are not perfect. They have flaws, they make mistakes, they fight, they love. And underneath it all there is an insane amount of research to make not only the characters, but the whole era seem so real. You can smell the filth of London, feel the touch of the cold pew of the church underneath you, taste the cold november air. C. J. Sansom knows how to sneak in bits of information about the political state of England, how the gears work in the background even though it doesn’t play such an important part in the story itself. But it all adds to it, it helps to understand better why it is so important for the monasteries to go, it gives a legitimate historical background to the story to make it feel more real. And this all is being covered by a blanket called religion. This book (and the whole series) shows why religion is so important when it comes to history. How it can influence not only the life of common people, but the fate of a whole country, depending on who is in power and what his beliefs are. It shows what powerful men can do in the name of religion, of belief, of God. It can make a hypocrite out of anyone.

If you enjoy mystery, with a historical background, especially the Tudor era of England, then I strongly recommend giving a shot at Dissolution. It’s gripping, makes you sit on the edge of your seat, even though it’s not exactly fast paced. It will held your interest until the end, and you’ll find yourself totally engrossed and waiting when you can continue reading on. Oh, and did I say it also adds a tiny twist to Anne Boleyn’s story? Yeah, it has many, many layers you’ll enjoy discovering. I also recommend listening to the audiobook, Steven Crossley did a really good job narrating it!