Dan's Reviews > Dissolution

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom
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's review
May 23, 11

Read in May, 2011


After Henry VIII’s little rifts with the Pope and a couple of wives, Henry, often through Thomas Cromwell, emulated the Popes, not only by claiming to be the head of the Church in England, but also by cruelly executing people who held different religious opinions. Henry, with Cromwell’s brilliant aid, also ordered the dissolution of all monasteries, their enormous wealth delivered, directly or indirectly to Henry. An era of official violence went hand in hand with greed and strongly held religious views.

This book is set in a monastery at a very particular time in the process of dissolution. After a few monasteries were dissolved, armed rebellion broke out against Henry. Dissolution of the remaining monasteries came about through the carrot of pensions for the monks and whatever stick was at hand–the claim of treason or other crimes. The story is set in a monastery that has “reformed” according to Henry’s laws–no Latin Masses, for example–and where the monks hope that they can avoid the dissolution. You get a good picture of monastic life–monastic high-life, you might be tempted to say–as well as a picture of the monks struggling to accommodate their religious beliefs with political reality.

The mysteries in the Scarnsea monastery begins when, seeking out monkish wrongdoing as a stick for force dissolution, Cromwell’s Commissioner is beheaded. Matthew Shardlake, a second Commissioner moves into the monastery to investigate the killing, but as with so many murder mysteries, other murders and other crimes are committed. Shardlake and several of the other characters are nicely drawn.

As a mystery, Dissolution is satisfactory, partly because the both the history and the setting provide interest in themselves, as does the account of attitudes of the people. Mantell’s Wolf Hall covers the immediately preceding years and develops a complete portrait of Thomas Cromwell. It is so good that perhaps I should have waited longer to read Dissolution. Still, in a way, they go together, and if you like mysteries or histories as I do, this is a good twofer.
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