This riveting debut set in 1534 England secured C. J. Sansom’s place “among the most distinguished of modern historical novelists” (P. D. James). When Henry VIII’s emissary is beheaded at an English monastery, hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake is dispatched to solve the crime. But as he uncovers a cesspool of sin, three more murders occur - and Matthew may be the next target.
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... and I am using the word "terrific" in all of its meanings: "big," "excellent," and "terror-inducing." I would not recommend this book to everybody. However, if you have an intellectual bent, an interest in history, and a fondness for the mystery genre, then you will love "Dissolution." I noticed that some earlier reviewers did not like this audiobook, because it moved too slowly for them. "Dissolution" does, indeed, unfold slowly; so if you are looking for a thriller, you can bypass this one. However, if you have the patience to appreciate a beautifully-crafted, intricate, intriguing mystery, then get ready to clean house, do all your ironing, mending, and laundry, and wash the car -- just so you can keep listening to "Dissolution." In fact, some aspects of this novel -- the history part, the dirt part, the cruelty part, and the dark part -- run completely contrary to my own normal tastes in audiobooks. I generally like thrillers packed with action and humor. Yet still, I could not stop listening to "Dissolution": That shows you how well it is written (all the subsequent novels in the Matthew Shardlake series, as well, by the way). Listening to C. J. Sansom's novels feels like watching a gripping movie that engages all the senses -- including smell, touch, and taste. You will learn more about Tudor England than you probably ever wanted to know, and not regret having done so. The title, "Dissolution," has a dual meaning here, referring both to King Henry VIII's dissolution of the Catholic church in England, and the protagonist's gradual disillusionment with his formerly enthusiastic reformist convictions.
I respond emotionally to all of the Matthew Shardlake novels: I keep wondering, "How could people have behaved so cruelly? How could people have borne all that filth? Are humans today still that awful? Am I a totally innocent naïf? Why do we keep getting ourselves into these terrible situations?" Yes, C. J. Sansom's novels make you think. I don't know if he meant to conjure this parallel, but throughout my listening to the Matthew Shardlake series, the similarity between Henry VIII's reign over England and Joseph Stalin's rule over Soviet Russia keeps occurring to me, particularly in the careless destruction of art. In "Dissolution," Henry VIII has commanded destruction all religious artifacts, regardless of their artistic merit. All religious gold was melted down for Henry's coffers, and all religious architecture was destroyed. We are given the picture of a totally, spoiled, self-absorbed, self-indulgent monarch imposing his will on his helpless subjects.
Steven Crossley, the narrator of "Dissolution" and all the subsequent Matthew Shardlake series, does an excellent job. He has a beautiful voice, very good command of accents, and he usually clearly distinguishes the characters from each other. "Dissolution" marks the beginning of the Matthew Shardlake series, so start here. You will want to listen to the subsequent entries in this series.
I didn't think I would enjoy this...after all, a hunchback detective? But, I love it! The narration is wonderful. I must say, however, that the oldest review (2-21-12 by Catherine) partly spoiled it for me by telling us who the murderer is in her review. Jeesh. Why would someone do that? Don't read her review if you want the ending to be a surprise.