Book review: Dissolution


(Matthew Shardlake #1)



456 pages

Published by Pan Books in 2004


This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

   hf-reading-challenge-2013 New Authors 2013

2013 TBR Pile Cozies


Rating system

And here we go again! I got myself into an excellent series several of my friends have been ecstatic about, which means my TBR has suddenly 4 more books added all at once!

I actually got to read this book as it sounded like a good complementary view of Mantel’s Cromwell. By now, everyone has heard about Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, and are awaiting #3!

I don’t like too much historical novels set in Tudor England when they focus mostly on romantic/mean relationships within the court. In Dissolution, the perspective is very different. Cromwell’s political and religious measures are well under way, and as you can guess from the title, the focus is on the destiny of English monasteries.

I liked a lot the character of Matthew Shardlake, investigator sent by Cromwell himself in a monastery south of London, where there seems to be some questionable behaviors, which would of course only help Cromwell find all the good reasons to dissolve the monastery and send its monks away.

What I liked in him was the development of his reflections and leanings: what you get between Mantel’s two books, the progressive discovery of Cromwell’s character, much more complex than it seems, and certainly not as neat as his charity towards his friend and family first conveys, you find it here reflected in Shardlake’s thinking. Protected and hired by Cromwell, he is first fascinated by the man and his power, and only sees good things in him, disregarding bad rumors. Little by little though, at the contact of honest people, he is led to rethink the whole situation, and gets into a real inner dilemma as he discovers the dark side of his former hero.

Add to this a tight writing, very precise and flowing; a great plot with suspense; a friendship with his younger associate; great characters in the monastic community; even some slight romance elements, and you have all the ingredients of a great historical novel.

If you like cozy mysteries (yes, there is such a genre, and the link points to lots of authors in that category) and historical novels set in England, you cannot ignore this series.


Exciting and elegantly written, Dissolution is an utterly compelling first novel and a 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 of England. When a royal commissioner is brutally murdered in a monastery on the south coast of England, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s feared vicar general, summons fellow reformer Matthew Shardlake to lead the inquiry. Shardlake and his young protégé uncover evidence of sexual misconduct, embezzlement, and treason, and when two other murders are revealed, they must move quickly to prevent the killer from striking again. [Goodreads]


C.J. Sansom

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 prominence with his series set in the reign of Henry VIII in the 16th century, whose main character is the hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake. Shardlake works on commission initially from Thomas Cromwell in Dissolution and Dark Fire and then Thomas Cranmer in Sovereign and Revelation.
The BBC have commissioned an adaptation of Dissolution with the actor Kenneth Branagh set to star as Shardlake. The rest of the Shardlake books are expected to follow. C. J. Sansom has been consulted on the series, which is in the final stages of negotiation.[citation needed].
He has also written Winter in Madrid, a thriller set in Spain in 1940 in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War.
Dark Fire won the 2005 Ellis Peters Historical Dagger, awarded by the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA). Sansom himself was “Very Highly Commended” in the 2007 CWA Dagger in the Library award, for the Shardlake series.





18 thoughts on “Book review: Dissolution

  1. Pingback: Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2013 | Words And Peace

  2. Pingback: New Authors Reading Challenge 2013 | Words And Peace

  3. Pingback: 2013 TBR Pile Reading Challenge | Words And Peace

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  5. It’s been on my to-be-read pile forever! Wolf Hall is also there so… which book do you think I should read first? Would it be too much Tudors to cope with if I read both within a short time lapse?


    • Hmm, that’s a tough one. First, you have to know that you cannot read Wolf Hall by itself. You really need to read Bring Up The Bodies right after.
      Also Mantel is historical fiction/literary fiction genre, Sanson is historical fiction and mystery genre. Sansom’s is easier to read. As their genre is different, reading the 3 of them in a row does not sound like a Tudor overdose. Maybe start by the more historical ones, Mantel’s, and then go to Sansom. As you know, Sansom’s is the #1 of a series. so if you like it you can also remain there after for several more books!!
      if you can recommend to listen to the Mantel’s as audiobooks. great narrators, Simon Vance for vol 2!


      • Hmm well, I haven’t got Bring Up The Bodies (yet) but, as it is such a long book, I was planning to leave it for the summer… Anyway, what do you mean that you need to read the 2nd one right after? (will it be the same with the 3rd one? even if it’s not released yet xD) This reminds me I also have ‘A Place of Greater Safety’ waiting til summer comes… so many books and so little time…
        I’ve never listened to audiobooks… so I don’t know if Wolf Hall is a good way to start 🙂


        • so maybe then start by Dissolution.
          if you start by Wolf Hall, I think it would be really good to read the 2nd volume as well before going to Dissolution. Because as I explained, you see in Dissolution the 2 faces you see in Mantel’s 2 books.
          but you might want to have someone else’s thought on this!
          Ah I also want to read A Place of Greater Safety. yes too many good books…
          I suggest you try audiobooks. that will increase your reading amount, lol, and some books are even better as audiobooks! I listen to them when I iron, dust, do the dishes, etc. some listen as they exercise.
          I know some people were a bit confused when listening to Wolf Hall, because Mantel says HE to speak about him; some readers were not sure whom she was talking about sometimes.


  6. Okay – I give up! I am going to have to begin a brand new TBR pile specifically devoted to your recommendations. I love historical fiction and devoured both of Mantel’s Cromwell books. I can already feel the burning need to dive into Dissolution and what follows.


      • How right you are Patricia, and before long psychiatrists’ waiting rooms will be overflowing with people suffering from the TBR complex!
        I have only read No 3, Sovereign so I am looking forward to going back to read the first two. Sansom is a very skilled author because I am more of a literary fiction fan than a historical mystery fan, but he has lured me right in with this one.


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