Dissolution, C. J. Sansom
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery and thrillers
I love this period in history, so much change going on in politics, state and religion. I’ve read many. many books, and the ones I love best are always like this, ones that make me feel I’m there, among the events, not just a reader but actually in the thick of what’s happening.
I’ve read most of the Shardlake series over the years, but in print form. They are among those I’d read over and over, but sadly all my print books had to go a few years back ( around 2k of them) as eye issues meant I couldn’t read them. Thank heavens for Kindle with its changing font size and background lighting.
So seeing this offered for review reminded me of how much I loved this series. Matthew Shardlake is a great lead character, he’s a very moral person, strongly in favour of reform but somehow naïve considering his profession.
He’s sent down to Scarnsea where the Commissioner investigating the monastery there has been murdered.
Its winter, the journey is hard, the welcome by the monks edges on suspicion. After all they knew the murdered man had come looking for excuses to shut them down but murder? Everyone is on edge, everyone seems to hold secrets, have possible motives and its Matthews job to tease them out and find the truth.
He’s accompanied by Mark Poer, a young man who’s been under his wing so to speak, working in Augmentations. Mark doesn’t like what he’s seen, and Matthew thinks he’s exaggerating, maybe its the hard work, the hours or something, or of course the fact his dalliance with a lady way above him was caught, he can’t believe Marks is right in what he sees happening. He’s promised Mark’s father to set him on the road to a good career, and he’s determined to do his best for Mark, not what he wants necessarily, but what he needs. That sounds harsh but its how life was then, a scrabble to survive and Matthew knows Mark could well end up one of the poor they see so often, in rags, no home, depending on charity for the few scraps of food that keep them alive.
The mystery surrounding the killer is difficult and tangled, no-one seems to have a motive, but several of the inhabitants of the monastery have the opportunity. Commissioner Singleton had been going to meet a monk, though no-one knows who, but the abbot and the monks are keen to believe it must have been an intruder that killed him. The more Matthew learns about the events surrounding the murder the wider the circle seems to get, and then things become even more dangerous.
I love that there are so many suspects, I’ve just decided on one as the culprit along with Matthew, when something happens to throw doubt on them, and this happens over and over.
There are so many secrets, so much going on here in this time of change for everyone. No-one feels safe, no-one actually is safe. Even stray words at the wrong time are enough to condemn someone so everyone is very guarded and that doesn’t help the investigation.
Poor Matthew gets his eyes really opened here by events surrounding Cromwell, a man he fervently believes in and admires. He learns his idol has feet of clay and is shocked, really shocked that he could be so casually callous about certain recent events. The force of what’s going on though has become uncontrollable, and Matthew isn’t in a position to do anything about it. I really feel for him, a good man in a position that puts him front and centre of the change he wanted but which isn’t having the results those like him intended. .
It was easy to feel as if I was back in the 1500’s with Matthew. Often its the little details, the snippets of real history, the day to day events, the food and clothes, the poverty, all those make a book feel very real. CJ Sansom has a real talent for those, for bringing the reader into the story by making the setting so vividly real. For throwing out little clues that send the reader on false tracks, often along with Matthew, for keeping the events wide open to very near the end, and keeping reader guessing who is behind things, and why of course. Rarely does murder happen without motive.
Stars: Five, a solidly written mystery/suspense that I enjoyed reading once more and I think its time for a reread of all of the novels.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers
When Winter Comes, V.A. Shannon
Genre: Historical fiction
Gosh, such a difficult book to review. I enjoyed it immensely, but it also made me incredibly angry, sad, squeamish, and so glad I was born in recent history.
Its easy to judge from the perspective of a safe, warm home, plenty of food, good trustworthy family and friends. The Indian saying about walking a moon in anothers shoes before judging is a good one to bear in mind. Who knows what we’d do when faced with death?
We get the story from Mrs Jacob Klein, now a well respected person, wife and mother. Her husband Jacob doesn’t figure largely in this story, and yet I get the feeling he knows what happened, he saw how harrowing the journey had been for his wife, and his decision right at the start to tell her he would never ask gave her a peace of mind.
She didn’t love him when they married, but over the years that respect and trust has grown, and I feel she does love him now, not with a grand passion, but with a depth that is solid, means more to her.
When we first meet her she’s one of many, families struggling to survive, parents who don’t care or have given up caring, and just use whatever they can to scratch a living, steeped in the alcohol that helps them forget for a bit how hard life is. That’s her future, selling her body, unless she takes charge, and when the opportunity comes she grabs it, and runs, out onto the trail with folk hoping for a new life.
Its hard, she’s on her own, tagging on to a family by their goodwill, and need for her help. Things go wrong of course, days are long, life is tough but somehow they’re getting through. Seeds are sown, moments of distrust, stories embellished, accusations and insinuations run riot, as happens with any large group, but so far they are making progress. Not without losses, but they all expected that.
Then someone comes up with a shortcut, tells some of the others they’ll get there ahead of the main group if they take it, they’ll get the best opportunities, the best land, the best grazing, be wealthy, and the infamous Donner Party sets out.
That part is true, the story is a fictionalised tale based upon real events, and its harrowing to read in parts.
Of course its never as easy as it seems, the shortcut proves to be anything but, and they fall far behind, the bad weather catches up and we see all this happening through the main characters eyes. Harsh realities bring out the best in some folk and the worst in others, and it makes for some tough reading, but I was gripped by wanting to know how things worked out. Slowly the misfortunes build on and life gets harder and harder. None of them escape unscathed and they have to take some hard decisions over what to do.
Reading it, I was thinking of the unwavering cold, no real shelter, no warm clothes or bedding, no medical supplies, very little food, and the outlook bleak, with no hope of getting through before the hard weather sets in for months. That real last resort, eating the dead so the living can survive, its an awful thought, but then so is letting children starve when bodies are meat that could save them. Hard choice to make and the decision never to speak of it is a good one.
As always though there are those with loud voices who make money from the story, not by telling the truth of course, but by presenting themselves in the best light, and by talking down and blaming those who they’ve held grudges against for so long.
That’s human life, that still happens, never let the truth get in the way of a good story is something we see today in the news all the time. Some things never change, but those lies can decimate anothers life.
Stars: Four, a story I really enjoyed, hard though parts were to read.
I liked the contrast of the seemingly content and well off Mrs Jacob Klein, with the scared, starving waif she began the story as.
I loved the history part of it, that its a real story, though a fictionalised account, and I felt for those poor souls who were part of it.
It gave me much to think about after.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers