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Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake #1)

4.07  ·  Rating Details ·  26,944 Ratings  ·  1,922 Reviews
From the bestselling author of Winter in Madrid and Dominion comes the exciting and elegantly written first novel in the Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery series

Dissolution is an utterly riveting portrayal of Tudor England. 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 o

Kindle Edition, 466 pages
Published April 27th 2004 by Penguin Books (first published April 28th 2003)
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Pat C. Don't be intimidated. This is an excellent series. I learn most of my history from fiction so I always appreciate it when the author knows what…moreDon't be intimidated. This is an excellent series. I learn most of my history from fiction so I always appreciate it when the author knows what they're talking about ;-). The stories are suspenseful, the murders grisly but not nauseating, the characters are fully fleshed out. My only complaint is that I wish the hero would get a girlfriend..(less)
Audrey I think so. The action in each book is set in a particular year. I think it would be hard to keep track of the external goings on if you tried to read…moreI think so. The action in each book is set in a particular year. I think it would be hard to keep track of the external goings on if you tried to read them out of order.(less)
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Community Reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
Jul 15, 2014 Jeffrey Keeten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cromwell
”’This is not Thomas More’s Utopia, a nation of innocent savages waiting only for God’s word to complete their happiness. This is a violent realm, stewed in the corruption of a decadent church.’

‘I know.’

‘The papists will use every means to present us from building the christian commonwealth, and so God’s blood I will use every means to overcome them.’

‘I am sorry if my judgement erred.’

‘Some say you are soft, Matthew, ‘ he said quietly. ‘Lacking in fire and godly zeal, even perhaps in loyalty.’

Bookdragon Sean
I very rarely bother with crime novels. The genre feels overdone and, well, a little bit boring. To me it all looks like the same regurgitated story. I blame the terrible police dramas on television; they make me yawn when I see how stupid they are. I did a two year course in forensic science, and it never ceases to amaze me how the writers of these television shows think that wearing gloves will therefore mean that the crime scene is not contaminated by the otherwise exposed investigators. Neve ...more
James Thane
Apr 17, 2015 James Thane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-fiction
Even though I read a lot of history, I've never been a fan of historical fiction and so when one of the book clubs to which I belong picked this novel as a monthly read, I approached it with some trepidation. For the most part, though, I was pleasantly surprised and I enjoyed the book more than I expected to.

Dissolution is set in England and the action takes place over a couple of extremely cold and snowy weeks in 1537. This is shortly after King Henry VIII has broken with the Catholic church an
5.0 stars. This story grabbed me from the very first page and kept me engaged throughout the entire book. I do not read as much historical/crime fiction as I do science fiction/fantasy but this book might cause that to change given how much I enjoyed this. I am a bit if a history buff and I was drawn to this story because it is set during the English Reformation, a period I was interested to learn more about.

The main character, Matthew Shardlake, is a hunchback, English lawyer working for Thoma
Jan 16, 2012 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mark by: Stephen and Tracy
What can I say. Really exciting, really atmospheric and the novel for which the phrase 'page turner' was created. Its the first in a series, in which i shall most definitely be heavily indulging, revolving around a well drawn character called Matthew Shardlake who, when the novel begins, is an ardent if gentle reformer working for Thomas Cromwell just as, with the death of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII is set free to vomit his horrible nastiness over a few more women.

Shardlake, a lawyer who struggles
I enjoyed reading this historical fiction book, recommended by GR friend Ingrid. The book is set in 1537 England. Henry VIII has left the Catholic church and the country is divided between those faithful to the new Church of England, with Henry VIII as its head, and the Catholic church. A royal commissioner is murdered in the monastery of Scarnsea on the southeast coast of England.
Thomas Cromwell, Henry's vicar general, calls a lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, to his office and tells him to go to the
Maria ní Chnoic
This is a good old-fashioned who-dun-it, with bodies dropping every few chapters. Set in 1537 and told in the first person, Matthew Shardlake (a King’s Commissioner) must investigate the brutal killing of the previous King's Commissioner, Robin Singleton at Scarnsea monastery. What is a good and reasonable Reformer to do amongst a bunch of deluded crazy Papist monks? With the fate of the Monastery at risk, everyone has something to cover up and nobody is to be believed!

The historical background
Set during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, this novel brings this episode in history to life through the character Matthew Shardlake. He is developed throughout the story, creating a multi-faceted, compelling protagonist. Passers by only see Shardlake as a cripple, but the reader sees his pride, insecurities, longing for companionship, and devotion to a cause that he believes is sincere.

Through the example of the Monastery of St. Donatus at Scarnsea, we are shown first hand
Sam Piper
Aug 24, 2011 Sam Piper rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Looking at the reviews here, it seems that this book is getting hammered because it cries out to be compared with other powerhouses of books.

Set in the 1500s of Henry VIII, it clearly bears parallels with Wolf Hall which is set two wives earlier. It has to be said that it lacks the beauty of the language of that novel or its subtle, multilayered realistic characterisation. Mantell's Cromwell is a far more engaging and convincing narrator than Sansom's Shardlake.

Similarly, set in an isolated mon
Apr 09, 2012 Emma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'The Bible says God made man in his image but I think we make and remake him, in whatever image happens to suit our shifting needs.'

This is a complex time in Tudor history, brilliantly brought to life by CJ Sansom. The status quo in Britain at the time this story is told is an uneasy one. Thomas Cromwell has been commissioned by Henry VIII to dissolve the monasteries. Papists are hunted down. As one character says' there is nowhere safe in the world, no thing certain.'
Matthew Shardlake , a hunch
Jan 01, 2015 Phrynne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Now that is how historical fiction should be written, plenty of fact, some great fictional characters and a really good story. The fact that this is also a mystery and a page turner made the deal for me. This was a really good read and I will be seeking out the rest of the series very soon.
A brilliant mystery set in Tudor England (1537-1538), the turbulent period after the execution of Anne Boleyn. Thomas Cromwell is pursuing the dissolution of monasteries; Shardlake, a hunchback, is a protestant commissioner sent by Cromwell to St. Donatus monastery at Scarnsea where the murder of his predecessor has taken place. There are number of monks among the suspects and Shardlake is convinced that the killer is still at the monastery.

This book was better that I expected. There are enough
How men fear the chaos of the world, I thought, and the yawning eternity hereafter. So we build patterns to explain its terrible mysteries and reassure ourselves we are safe in this world and beyond.

There was a germ of something remarkable in this genre novel. Double cursed with the blights of "historical" and "detective" baggage, Dissolution betrays yet another misfortune as it flies headlong into the pillars of its territory: The Name of the Rose meets Man For All Seasons as remixed by DJ Spoo
I don't often read books set during this period of English history. I don't know why. But I am glad that I have started. Well, perhaps I should say, that I am glad that I have discovered CJ Sansom because he really brought Henry Tudor's England alive for me. It is that which has made me glad to start reading books of this era.
As a crime thriller, this book was a little dull. Hence the 4 stars and not 5 stars. I didn't enjoy it so much for the crime solving. It was Sansom's descriptions of Englan
Diane Barnes
This is a great murder mystery set in the 16th century, during the religious reformation of Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII. The setting is a monastery in Scarnsea, and Matthew Shardlake is a hunchbacked lawyer who serves as a commissioner of Cromwell to investigate the murder, and to hasten the dissolving of St. Donatus, as a precedent and warning to other religious orders as to what awaits them. One murder turns into 4, with twists and turns and red herrings all along the way. This book has it ...more
This is a good historical mystery, told by a master story teller. It is a tale of greed and revenge in which suspense and red herrings abound. The characterisation is good, the plot is interesting and our hero has to come to terms with some of his own shortcomings. The historical angle is also interesting; I had not previously given the dissolution of the monasteries much thought.
Nov 30, 2011 Helen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
I loved this story. I haven't read too many historical mysteries but I can't imagine them getting much better than this. Matthew Shardlake is such a terrific main character that I find myself wanting to follow him around no matter what he's doing. Not quite as smart as Sherlock Holmes but a million times more likeable. Plus the fact that he is a hunchback just seems to make him all the more appealing.

And I didn't even mention the writing and the mystery itself, both of which are excellent.
Feb 21, 2017 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: genre-challeng
Good but not as good as I expected.
History was very interesting and in general the characters were quite good. The plot itself was a bit lackluster for me and the mystery wasn't overly gripping .
Jun 20, 2013 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2013
This is Tudor whodunit, set in the reign of Henry VIII. Shardlake is a commissionaire for Lord Cromwell and is asked to go to a monastery to investigate the murder of the last commissionaire who was there. He arrives with his assistant and sets about trying to find the murderer. Whilst he is there the body count starts to rise. He is suspicious of the motives behind why the monks are doing certain things, and he starts to get under the skin of the abbot and prior in the hope of flushing out the ...more
Susan Johnson
I was watching Craig Ferguson one night and he mentioned he was enjoing his CJ Sansom book. What could a night owl do but run to Amazaon books and look up the author? Who would not be excited about reading a book about a hunchback lawyer investigating murders at a monastery during the relgious upheaval times under King Henry VIII? It was entertaining that I sat up reading it instead of watching Craig Ferguson and I liked it so much that I have ordered the second one. I can't wait
Apr 25, 2016 Jaksen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to like this book more. Set in Tudor times, just after the death of Jane Seymour, and with the events surrounding Anne Boleyn's rise, fall and beheading still in the recent past. It's about the 'dissolution' of the monasteries as England turns from being a Catholic state to one that is/was (mostly) reformist or Protestant. It's an historical era I know next to nothing about and sounded (to mine ears) very promising.

Matthew Shardlake is a hunchback (interesting), from a poor or co
Jan 17, 2012 Susan rated it it was amazing
First published in 2003, this is the first novel in the Matthew Shardlake series, and introduces us to our unlikely hero; lovelorn, hunchbacked, a reformist lawyer who begins the book as utterly loyal to Cromwell’s ideals and ends it plagued with doubts about his role and mission.

Shardlake is sent by Cromwell to the Monastery of St Donatus the Ascendant at Scarnsea, Sussex. It is 1537 and the dissolution of the monasteries is underway. Cromwell had sent Commissioner Robin Singleton there with l


Lawyer-detective Matthew Shardlake is sent to investigate a killing at a monastery.

blurb - C J Sansom's bestselling Tudor crime novel, adapted for radio by Colin MacDonald.

London, 1537. As he plots to bring down the Abbeys, Thomas Cromwell sends his trusted lawyer-detective, Matthew Shardlake, to investigate the murder of a King's Commissioner in a monastery on the south coast of Kent. Which of the terrified monks is the murderer - and can Shardlake catch him before he strik
Lynne King
I was very disappointed in this book as it came highly recommended by friends; four of whom I had known since I was a teenager. In fact I trusted their judgement so much, I purchased five books from this series at the same time.

I should have loved this book as it's about the Tudor period, which has always fascinated me; there were so many intrigues going on and one never knew who was going to end up in the Tower, and the central character Matthew Shardlake, the hunchback lawyer, was very interes
I listened to the audiobook which was excellently narrated. However, as happens with me, I was sometimes not focusing when listening and missed some details. I am intrigued by this period of English history when Henry VIII went about dismantling the Catholic church. Dissolution, the title, refers to the closing of Catholic monasteries. While undoubtedly there was a great deal of corruption among the clergy, not all monks were guilty of wrong doing, and a lot of destruction occurred. I recall whe ...more
Morana Mazor
Mar 07, 2015 Morana Mazor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Moj prvi Sansom i ljubav na prvu knjigu...Ok, ja sam i inače veliki ljubitelj povijesnih romana, krimića, a i Tudora (zajedno sa Engleskom u to doba), a svega toga ima u Raskolu.. Nema baš Tudora direktno, ali su negdje u pozadini jer sva ta događanja opisana u romanu posljedica su odvajanja Engleske od katoličke crkve što je inicirao, naravno, Henrik VIII.
No da se vratim na roman.. Pratimo Mathewa Shardlake-a i njegovu istragu ubojstava u jednom od engleskih samostana...(neposredno pred nestana
A moderately enjoyable page-turner. Sansom's historical and legal background give authority to his research, but do nothing to lighten his prose, which never rises above the pedestrian, or to leaven his characters. Where Dissolution really falls down for me is that Sansom tries and fails to balance modern sensitivities with Tudor sensibilities—rather than creating characters with authentic views of women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and homosexuals, Sansom describes people whose ...more
As a work of historical fiction, this deserves six stars. As a mystery, it was very good, but it was overlong in places. The ending was wonderful, and unfortunately, kept me awake at 3am listening to this, rather than falling back to sleep. A sign of a great book though. All in all, I learned a lot from this book, and really enjoyed it. I'll definitely continue with the series. The author has a PhD in history and really knows his stuff. Lots of background, lots of period detail here, and if you ...more
I won't miss this BBC dramatization:

Winter, 1537, the South Kent Coast. Thomas Cromwell's trusted lawyer-detective, Matthew Shardlake, arrives at Scarnsea monastery with orders to investigate the brutal killing of a King's Commissioner, Robin Singleton. As he begins to meet the prime suspects, it soon becomes clear that the case will not be as simple to solve as he had hoped.

I must agree with Hayes, the book is much better than this dramatization.
Nov 23, 2013 Allan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
Dissolution is in my mind a typical crime novel in form, set in late 1530s Tudor England during the time of Henry VIII. Told in the first person by Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer and agent for Thomas Cromwell, who was in real life the King's Chief minister at the time, the novel details Shardlake's attempts to solve the murder of another of Cromwell's agents in a monastery under pressure to close due pressures brought by the reformation at the time.

In the novel, Sansom does an excellent job in recr
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2015 Reading Chal...: Dissolution by C.J. Sansom 1 16 Apr 08, 2015 06:50PM  
Tudor History Lovers: May 2014 - Dissolution, by C.J. Sansom 36 108 Jul 20, 2014 02:41PM  
Tudor Book Blog B...: Overview 10 26 Jun 05, 2014 08:16PM  
Historical Fictio...: Group Series: Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake #1) 19 182 Dec 04, 2013 11:09AM  
Tudor Book Blog B...: Thomas Cromwell 8 25 Nov 18, 2013 08:42AM  
Tudor Book Blog B...: Overview 20 22 Nov 17, 2013 05:32PM  
Brilliant book with 2 flaws. 25 329 Nov 17, 2013 12:01PM  
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Christopher John "C.J." Sansom is an English writer of crime novels. He was born in 1952 and was educated at the University of Birmingham, where he took a BA and then a PhD in history. After working in a variety of jobs, he decided to retrain as a solicitor. He practised for a while in Sussex as a lawyer for the disadvantaged, before quitting in order to work full-time as a writer.
He came to promi
More about C.J. Sansom...

Other Books in the Series

Matthew Shardlake (6 books)
  • Dark Fire (Matthew Shardlake, #2)
  • Sovereign (Matthew Shardlake, #3)
  • Revelation (Matthew Shardlake, #4)
  • Heartstone (Matthew Shardlake, #5)
  • Lamentation (Matthew Shardlake, #6)

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“In worshipping their nationhood men worship themselves and scorn others, and that is no healthy thing.” 49 likes
“It seems a universal rule in this world that people will always look for victims and scapegoats, does it not? Especially at times of difficulty and tension.” 8 likes
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