Dissolution by C.J. Sansom
My cousin Harriet introduced me to the Matthew Shardlake Tudor mysteries. If you liked Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, you’ll enjoy these as well.
Unlike many Tudor stories which concentrate on the dramatic Anne Boleyn years, author C.J. Sansom begins his series in 1537 shortly after the death of Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour. Thomas Cromwell and the reformers are in power, but it is an unsettled time. Beheadings are not just limited to Queens; anyone who disagrees with the new religion is at risk.
A key initiative of the reformers is the dissolution of the Catholic Church. Parish by parish, the rich assets of the Church are dismantled and redistributed, not to the poor as promised, but to a new class of men, ambitious, greedy and (for now) pro Cromwell.
The first novel in the series, Dissolution, opens with the murder of a royal commissioner at one soon to be disbanded monastery. Cromwell sends fellow reformer and lawyer Matthew Shardlake to the south coast of England to investigate. Something is certainly rotten at the monastery as two more murders illustrate, but to Shardlake’s dismay something is rotten with the reform movement too.
This is a wonderfully atmospheric series, and hunchback Shardlake is a complex and likable character. Dissolution, is little slow, but subsequent novels move more briskly. I recommend Dissolution, but you could jump into the second novel in the series, Dark Fire and not miss too much.