Dissolution: C J Sansom Review
For a long time I’ve had a fear of reading books, probably because I’m afraid that I’ll read one page and despair at how much better it is than my (as yet) unpublished works.
It was with great trepidation then that I agreed to read C J Sansom’s “Dissolution” – the first of the Tudor crime novel series starring hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake as the protagonist.
I thought it was good. Yeah. Thankfully I wasn’t reading it thinking that it was better than mine, because a) it was just so different to my work, and b) I honestly don’t think it was better than my work. But it was a good book. Excellent? Outstanding? Maybe not.
There were a few moments which genuinely made me gasp, which is always a good sign. I would say perhaps three in total, three genuine gasps of shock, those kind of “ahhhhhh-hahhhhhh” moments. They were good. The chapters set in London were my favourite ones, as I felt there you really got a sense of the times when the story is set. Rotting heads on spikes, people wondering in amazement at Parrots – creatures that hadn’t been seen in England until that point. Brilliant, yes – those chapters stood out. Unfortunately, most of the novel was set in the fictional monastery of Scarnsea somewhere near Rye on the south coast, and it was there that I sometimes forgot that this was a Tudor tale. Monks are monks, at the end of the day – the occasional use of the word “ye” was the main indicator of the 16th century. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, all I know is that the scenes in London had me reading more keenly than the scenes in Scarnsea.
I was dissapointed too that at only a quarter of the way through I had guessed the culprit behind the primary murder in the story. It was sort of obvious, which is a shame as I really wanted to be suprised. And the culprit of the subsequent murders, well, I didn’t guess that for sure, but it still wasn’t a shock because to be honest, I didn’t care that much by that point. I didn’t form an attachment to that character at all, I didn’t love him nor hate him, and so when I found out he was the murderer it was just a bit of an “oh” moment really.
Talking about forming attachments, I didn’t remotely become attached to Matthew Shardlake. I can’t say I loved him, and I can’t say I hated him. He had moments of vulnerability which were nice, but still I can’t say I really warmed to him. I warmed to Mark Poer no end (I even shared Brother Gabriels lustings somewhat) and something about the way he was written just made him leap off the page. I was dissapointed with the way it ended for him – and to me it seemed almost out of character. There had been some suggestion of a falling out between Mark and Matthew, but it seemed really odd that suddenly he was pulling daggers on his master and shoving him in a cupboard to run off with a murderess – no matter how pretty and sharp minded she was. It stuck in my mind that earlier in the story he had been willing to defend Matthew against ignorant and narrow minded people who took the mickey out of him for his deformity, he really felt like a son, but also a best friend. Then suddenly he turns. Well, that’s just my feeling anyway.
I must just also quickly praise Brother Gabriel. Sansom did a great job there – and that was a character which I was sad to see die. Some could say I’m biased, and maybe I am, but I just felt so sorry for the bloke – after all, he clearly couldn’t help being gay. His lust for Mark was understandable, and in a time when gays could be executed, it was very sad. My redeeming moment for Matthew was that he didn’t entirely condemn Brother Gabriel – he clearly didn’t entirely aspprove, but he showed humanity and compassion towards someone who was also suffering with an “affliction” that society condemned.
Overall, despite a few nagging points, I say bravo. I must have liked it well enough as I want to read the next one – that’s always a good sign.