Book Review: Dissolution, by C. J. Samson

C. J. Samson’s hunchbacked lawyer-cum-investigator Matthew Shardlake stars in a book series that has received rave reviews from readers and critics alike. He is a monk and a disciple of Cromwell during the tumultuous years of the reformation. However, he has his own internal battles with the path he has chosen to fight as he serves Lord Cromwell [spit…] and his mission.

In Dissolution Shardlake is dispatched to investigate the murder of a servant of Cromwell at a monastery in Hampshire – and wouldn’t you know it but Cromwell’s man was already looking in to a different death. Shardlake finds a monastery on edge at the thought of dissolution, the inhabitants a gaggle of brothers who may or may not be corrupt. He faces a race against time to work out what has really transpired and his own mortal life may be under threat if he doesn’t find the answer and quickly.

Samson’s description of Tudor England, with Cromwell’s evil hand at full force, is outstanding and the author really evokes the political situation effortlessly. In Cromwell we are presented with a tyrant who has indefatigable belief in his mission – to him God’s mission. But Shardlake wavers, pontificating on whether it is the very specter of reformation that drives the murderer in the monastery. What price the reformation?

I didn’t find Shardlake a likeable character however and I found that my lack of empathy with him and his moaning ways a bit of a downer when it came to my enjoyment of the book. In many ways, I’d have been quite happy to see him fall. This is from the perspective of a single book in the series and it would seem Samson is setting the scene for Shardlake to develop some guts to face Cromwell, which clearly wouldn’t have been an easy task back in an England hungry for change and in the fearful grip of an ever more zealous reformer.



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