I like few things more than a good murder mystery to get stuck into, but then my friend lent me Dissolution by C J Sansom. A murder mystery set in 1537. A murder mystery revolving around the dissolution of the monasteries. A murder mystery with a very boring brown cover.
I trust my friend’s impeccable good taste in books, but it took me a long time to brave reading Dissolution.
I’m not a big fan of historical fiction – the furthest back I usually go is World War I. But I had to remind myself that this is still a murder mystery, and it was written this century, it just happens to be set nearly 500 years ago. And have the world’s most boring brown cover.
Henry VIII has declared himself head of the church and his orders are to get rid of the Latin language, relics and idols. Prayer and Bibles should be in English. Under the orders of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent out to investigate the monasteries. But at Scarnsea monastery on the Sussex coast, the commissioner has been found dead, with his head cut off.
Matthew Shardlake, a supporter of Cromwell, is sent to investigate the murder and find out what is really going on at Scarnsea.
The monastery is quite unlike anything you would imagine a monastery to be like – rich meals, servants, an obsession with money and a little bit of sexual abuse on the side.
I’ll admit, after about 20 pages, I wondered what I was doing. Why was I torturing myself with this book with its archaic language and a setting I couldn’t understand or relate to? But, soon after, something clicked.
And I loved Dissolution. Once you get used to it, the language doesn’t feel so strange and the book paints a really vivid picture. I could clearly see the monastery in my mind’s eye.
And (spoiler alert) there wasn’t just one murder to focus on either.
If you like a nice, easy-to-read book, this isn’t for you. It is a bit more challenging than I’m used to, but at its heart, it is a murder mystery like any other. I enjoyed Dissolution and will definitely be looking out for more books in the Shardlake series.