Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake #1), by C.J. Sansom (author), Steven Crossley (narrator)


Recorded Books, November 2011

The cover image is a link to the abridged edition, because Amazon for some reason won't let me link to the unabridged. However, I listened to the unabridged edition.

This is the first of Tudor-era lawyer Matthew Shardlake's adventures, several years earlier than the book I previously reviewed. He's not quite as established and prominent as in the later book, and the household and strong network of friends we see there has not yet come together. And Matthew is still deep in politics, working for Thomas Cromwell.

Cromwell is at this time engaged in trying to engineer the peaceful "voluntary" surrender of the major monasteries. He sent a Royal Commissioner, Robert Singleton, to the abbey of St. Donatus, in Scamsea, and Singleton has been murdered. Cromwell sends Matthew as the new Commissioner, to investigate Singleton's murder as well as complete his original task of persuading the abbey to surrender. Matthew sets out with his young assistant and protege, Mark Poer.

They walk into a bewildering mystery. Singleton was killed by  beheading with what must have been an extremely sharp sword--sharp and heavy enough to neatly take his head off with a single blow. The weapon has not been found. The location of the murder, inside the abbey's locked kitchen, could not have been reached by anyone but one of the obedientiaries, one of the ranking monastic officers with keys to the locked areas. Most aren't tall enough, or powerful enough, and those who are have their whereabouts accounted for. It's also difficult to find a motive, because the monks want their way of life preserved, and Singleton's shocking death just makes closure harder to resist. And what happened to the sword?

This is a beautifully intricate mystery, extremely well done. It also gives the reader a sense of being in another time, with the look and feel and smell of Tudor England very present on the page. As with many tv police or hospital dramas, of course, those who really know the period in detail are going to find inaccuracies and anachronisms of language, manner, and what books were available when. With that caveat, though, this is still an excellent, enjoyable mystery.

Recommended.

I borrowed this book from a friend.