***You can’t say I haven’t dived into Samson’s work. He’ll probably end up being my author of the year for 2013, though I discovered him in 2012.
These two are, I believe, the Alpha and the Omega of the Shardlake series. Dissolution starts our intrepid hunchback lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, on his assignments from Thomas Cromwell (though it’s inmplied that he’s had others, so maybe I’m wrong about where this novel falls in the series.) with the ugly and distasteful task of decommissioning a monastery.
In some ways, he doesn’t mind. The abbeys have become corrupt with their “taxes” allowing the monks to live in luxury while the communities of faithful around them starve. However, the motive for the crown’s abolishing them is so blatantly financial and political that even Shardlake’s anti-papist sentiments aren’t enough to insulate him from sympathies for the dispossessed. H VIII wants to loot the abbeys to wage war and buy loyalty, and that rubs him wrong.
The ostensible reason for his errand is to investigate a murder, that of the previous de-commissioner. He takes with him a young assistant (he always has one of those.) and starts digging.
As always, Shardlake. proves he’s not necessarily the brightest star in the galaxy. He makes mistakes, accuses the innocent and doesn’t catch on to the guilty till late. However, no one matches him for doggedness, and if he’s on your tail, you might as well sit down and hold out your hands to be cuffed. He will get you.
The final solution of this one carries an excellent piece of moral ambiguity and is as well done as any in the series and better than most.
At the other end of the chain (and, it turns out appropriately at the end of the Bible) is Revelation. Matthew by this time is so disillusioned with religion he’s turned virtually Agnostic. At least deist. Cromwell is gone—Well, not quite, you can still catch sight of his head on one of the bridge or wall pikes if you know where to look.—and he’s trying to just be a lawyer. But when your best friend turns up with his throat cut in the fountain outside your office, and when you’re ordered to investigate by the archbishop, you can’t just refuse and go back to pushing papers and talking to judges.
Exactly what the title and the first murder have to do with Revelations, I’ll leave to your reading to discover. Wouldn’t be fair to do it here. However, I will say that there’s another tantalizing love affair here as well as some of the most gruesome crimes Sansom’s ever invented. Also quite a bit of theological discussion, though artfully embedded so as not to deflate the action.
These make nice companions for one another as well as for the Anglophile, on vacation or not.
***These are books I read here and there on planes and trains while on vacation in Ireland and the UK, so if the reviews seem a bit hurried and shallow, chalk it up to haste.