(I did say I would be reviewing each Shardlake book as I read them, and I finished this one only today, so I guess it counts in the reading war? Anyhoo, here we go! Also, be wary, there be spoilers in these here parts)
So, Dissolution. This is the first novel in the Shardlake series, starring the hunchback property lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, who seems to be constantly being roped into crimes involving grisly murders, intrigue and scandal.
In this book, it’s 1537, which means… Henry VIII is dissolving all the monasteries, and taking all their riches and land for himself! Yay! Cromwell has ordered our hero off to a monastery in Scarnsea, a lovely little town on the coast, with a sordid issue at hand. The last commissioner, Singleton, has been brutally murdered in the kitchen of the monastery, and Cromwell wants Shardlake to go off and find out why he was so brutally bumped off, as well as to continue the job Singleton started (gathering enough evidence to get the monastery closed down for corruption). Shardlake takes his assistant Mark, with him (mainly to get him out of a pickle involving a lady in waiting. Ahem). What follows is another two grisly murders, loads of red herrings, plenty of me shouting:
“I thought it was you!”
So, yeah! I did start reading this on my Kindle, sneaking a chapter in at work, but then got too busy and left all reading to one side. But when the author himself appeared at work, I made a vow that I would finish all five books before my birthday (I always seem to get book vouchers, which I have to spend straight away on my latest bookish obsession), and that I would review each one (I’m going off topic…) so, yeah.
This is the first proper, grown up crime novel I’ve read from start to finish. And I’ve really gotten into it! I loved the characters in the story. Even the characters we either meet briefly are made to be extremely important, no one is there unnecessarily. Not to mention that they were extremely well written, they have their own distinct personalities, their loves, their hates, their beliefs, and their flaws. It meant that I struggled to figure out which characters I liked best. Brother Guy is definitely my favourite secondary character. Seriously, for a character we are not supposed to be supporting because of his beliefs (he is a monk who is basically the doctor) and because he is black, and foreign, but he is the one who is the most morally sound of all the monks. I also felt him to be Shardlake’s voice of reason in the book, almost a sounding board when Mark has buggered off to chat Alice, the assistant of Brother Guy, up.
Shardlake was therefore my favourite character. I loved his dry wit, one he has had to work on due to his disability. I loved the fact that he wasn’t the typical hero in the story, handsome, dashing and faultless. If he had of been, I would of refused to finish the book! He is also similar to me, and the way I think, as he is methodical in the way he thinks and solves the crime. It feels like you’re next to him, trying to help him puzzle out every clue, every suspect.
And that’s when we come to plot. The sub plot of the love triangle between Mark, Alice and Shardlake was nice and subtle, unlike in other novels where this style of subplot is too in your face, this gave you a nice little break from the main mystery, and also helps you to understand Shardlake’s character far better. You kind of almost want to hug the poor bugger when Alice proper rejects him (Alice, you bitch!). I also liked the flashbacks into Shardlake’s childhood, and of his schooldays in a monastery, where he was refused by the abbot to become a monk because of his disability (just as well really). However, I was annoyed at them being only in a small part of the book, to the point of wondering if they really had much purpose in the novel at all. The way subplots with Brother Gabriel, Orphan and Alice, as well as the Boleyn execution, including it’s political significance, not to mention the effect of one of the men being killed alongside her after having a ‘confession’ tortured out of him is weaved effortlessly into the plot makes this a book that keeps the pages turning. There is always action, wherever you turn, and the ending made me gasp in shock that the author had managed to fool me! Two murderers, two very different motives.
The final review point is historical accuracy. What I sometimes hate in historical fiction is that sometimes writers will use:
· Modern language
· Modern mannerisms/behaviour
· Not research places, society, costume or events properly
CJ Sansom, however, makes sure that his era, the world he is creating for us, is as true to the era as possible. He uses words in dialogue that people would of actually used, he uses events that took place in actual history in order to create a plot, rather than creating a plot and adding the events around it. You feel like you are walking through Scarnsea, you can smell the stench of the sea and the beggers, hear dogs bark and children cry. You feel the awe of the monastery as you follow Shardlake and the monks whilst solving the crime.
Therefore, you feel rather, well, dissatisfied once you’ve finally turned that final page. You right away need to go back there, to get stuck in.
That’s when you know you’ve found an author you’re going to stick with for a long time.
So. Dark Fire next, stay tuned!
Four stars, because of the flashbacks. But a wonderful book! Would recommend to anyone who likes historic fiction, and a bloody good mystery.