Dissolution (Shardlake Series)

Dissolution - C.J. Sansom As big a fan as I am of historical fiction, I tend to focus on periods after the 1750s. The cover of Dissolution always looked interesting to me, and it was highly recommended by a co-worker, but it wasn't until it was selected for the store's book club that I finally picked it up. The "dissolution" of the title is that of the monasteries. Cromwell has come to power and when one of his agents, while investigating rumours of misbehaviour at a Sussex monastery, is found beheaded in the locked kitchen. Reformist lawyer Matthew Shardlake is dispatched to investigate. The strength in this novel is definitely in the sense of place. From the teeming streets of London to the freezing rooms of the monastery, Sansom puts the reader firmly in his characters' world. Images of deformity pervade this book. From Shardake's own hunchbacked body, to the clipped wings of the first parrots to arrive in England, to the very coastline on which the monastery stands. Whether the deformity is by nature or the hand of man, it always seems to carry with it an element of disgust for Shardlake, a disgust that is, sadly, most present when it concerns his own body, over which he can at times appear obsessive, and which manifests not only in the pain is causes him, but also in a conviction that he is constantly being stared at. His feelings echo the fear that the Reformation has created in many people, who must be careful of each and every word they say. Shardlake's story was originally written without plans for a series, which, in retrospect, explains my surprise as some of the plot choices. I'm pleased that the series continued however, and I may be including a bit more of the 1500s in my rations of historical fiction.