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.




Mantel vs Murakami

Disappointed Harukist, but happy Mantelist!

did not win the Nobel prize of literature
(click on the picture to read my review of his masterwork)


Hilary Mantel

the Man Booker Prize

and this is the first time ever
– a British author
– a woman
achieves a Booker double!!

Click on the covers to read my review of

 Wolf Hall Bring Up The Bodies

Bravo Hilary Mantel!

And here a fascinating article on Hilary’s Mantel imagination.

Review #63: Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall



Narrator:  Simon Slater
Published by Macmillan Audio,

This books counts for

2011 Audio Book Challenge


I have heard a lot about this book, by other bloggers and friends, and I am glad I finally took time to listen to it – over 24 hours, but every minute was worth it.

As many readers have already said before me, it is stunning how the author manages to give a picture of the main characters so different from what history text books or even movies convey. If I ask you which of the two historical figures you dislike most, chances are you will choose Cromwell over Thomas More.

But this is all a question of perspective. The book begins with a violent scene where Cromwell as a boy is savagely beaten by his own father. Through his hard work, and amidst constant inner suffering related to his youth, and his wife and children he lost because of the plague, he manages to reach the highest office in the country after the King.

More positively, he is described having lots of affection and compassion for members of his household and young people he protected and helped in life. Never heard about any of that in history classes!

I could not but feel compassion myself for him at the end when he experiences conscience pangs after More’s execution.

To get to Thomas More now, the picture is far from the portrait of the martyr I was used to.
And here the narrator is fantastic in supporting the author’s perspective: the tome of voice he uses when he narrates More is full of contempt, and More appears really as a repulsive character. In the whole book, the narrator was excellent at sticking to the author’s point, just by modulating his tone of voice, and of course accents as well, for instance for the French ambassador.

The book may have been more difficult for me in its written form, but I found it so lively in its audio form, thanks to its great narrator.

It is really a pleasure to rediscover history, and to see that things were not always as black and white as they were presented to me at school. Now I have heard that a sequel is coming. I will not wait for 2 years to read it for sure.

If you would like to refresh your history about the beginning of the schism with  Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, this book  is for you.

I invite you to read my review of volume 2: Bring Up The Bodies.

ADDED on 9/1/21:
And my review of Book 3: The Mirror and the Light
Added on 9/2/21:
In 2015, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (vol. 2) were adapted in a 6 part series entitled Wolf Hall, with fantastic actors, especially Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis. Highly recommended!


“Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning,” says Thomas More, “and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.”

England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the Pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor. Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events.

Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.

From one of our finest living writers, Wolf Hall is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics. With a vast array of characters, and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, moulding itself with great passion and suffering and courage. [Goodreads]


Hilary Mantel was born in Glossop, Derbyshire, England on 6 July 1952. She studied Law at the London School of Economics and Sheffield University. She was employed as a social worker, and lived in Botswana for five years, followed by four years in Saudi Arabia, before returning to Britain in the mid-1980s. In 1987 she was awarded the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for an article about Jeddah, and she was film critic for The Spectator from 1987 to 1991.

Her novels include Eight Months on Ghazzah Street (1988), set in Jeddah; Fludd (1989), set in a mill village in the north of England and winner of the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, the Cheltenham Prize and the Southern Arts Literature Prize; A Place of Greater Safety (1992), an epic account of the events of the French revolution that won the Sunday Express Book of the Year award; A Change of Climate (1994), the story of a missionary couple whose lives are torn apart by the loss of their child; and An Experiment in Love (1995), about the events in the lives of three schoolfriends from the north of England who arrive at London University in 1970, winner of the 1996 Hawthornden Prize.

Her recent novel The Giant, O’Brien (1998) tells the story of Charles O’Brien who leaves his home in Ireland to make his fortune as a sideshow attraction in London. Her latest books are Giving Up the Ghost: A Memoir (2003), an autobiography in fiction and non-fiction, taking the reader from early childhood through to the discoveries in adulthood that led her to writing; and Learning to Talk: Short Stories (2003).

Hilary Mantel’s novel Beyond Black (2005) tells the story of Alison, a Home Counties psychic, and her assistant, Colette. It was shortlisted for a 2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize and for the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction. Her latest novel Wolf Hall (2009) won the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. [Goodreads]