The year is 1537. Anne Boleyn had been beheaded eighteen months previously and England is witnessing the dissolution of the monasteries. In charge of this great undertaking is Thomas Cromwell, the vicar-general, who is sending out commissioners across the land to help him close the religious houses.
One such commissioner is Matthew Shardlake, a London-based lawyer, who sometimes undertakes assignments for Thomas Cromwell. When Shardlake is summoned from another case in Surrey and told to report to Cromwell’s office immediately, it can only mean that there is important work to be done. When the lawyer has his audience with the second most powerful man in England, it is to learn that another commissioner has been murdered whilst on Cromwell’s business, at the monastery of Scarnsea on the Sussex coast. Not only must Shardlake uncover the murderer but also complete what his predecessor failed to do: persuade the monks at Scarnsea that their monastery will close.
However, there are dark goings-on at Scarnsea. Not only has a commissioner been murdered, but an act of sacrilege has been committed in the church. Surrounded by suspicion and treachery, Shardlake must use all the talents he possesses – including his wits – if he, and his assistant Mark Poer are to survive the investigation. And yet, perhaps more importantly, as the case unravels, what Shardlake witnesses firsthand may lead to him questioning that which he has firmly believe for many years…
This is a fascinating historical series set in one of the most turbulent periods of English history. I have read the first half of the series before, but decided that I wanted to read them again before allowing myself to read the later books – an activity that I cherish 🙂
Matthew Shardlake is a highly likeable character who, with a hunchback (which is dealt with sensitively by the author), has a lot stacked against him. Commoners tend to fear him – contemporary superstition maintained that it was unlucky for someone to be touched by a hunchback, whilst those of his profession are jealous of his connections to Thomas Cromwell.
There were a number of characters that I found myself liking as I made my way through the book. Brother Guy of Malton, who is a monk of Moorish descent. Mark Poer, Shardlake’s assistant, who has currently fallen out of favour after a period of disgrace.
The story is rich and flows with ease. The descriptions and historical detail provided by the author are vivid, bringing both the story and the time period to life.
Dissolution is a great first book for a series. It had me hooked from the start and I’m looking forward to enjoying the other books that follow it. I highly recommend it to those who have an interest in the period.