Dissolution by C J Sansom #FridayReads #BookReview

Dissolution

It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066. Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church. The country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers ever seen. And under the orders of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent throughout the country to investigate the monasteries. There can only be one outcome: dissolution.

But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s Commissioner, Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege.

Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell to uncover the truth behind the dark happenings at Scarnsea. But investigation soon forces Shardlake to question everything that he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes . . .

I have come very late to the detective stories of Matthew Shardlake, since this first book was originally published in 2003, but I was fascinated to enter a Benedictine monastery just at the time when it was threatened with dissolution by Henry VIII via the machinations of his Lord Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell.  I have studied the ideal of the monasteries providing alms, care for the sick and accommodation for the traveller by being self-sufficient with their farm, fishponds and gardening. I also know that Cromwell’s accusations of gluttony, fornication and profiteering were based on real crimes committed by many of the monks.

Shardlake provides us with an outsider’s view of the monastery at a remote coastland site where devout, hard-working brothers lived alongside wrongdoers who enjoyed a comfortable life with luxurious food.  His task as a Commissioner to discover the murderer is further complicated by the discovery of another body and several likely suspects.  Expecting his assistant, Mark Poer, to support his efforts, he is distressed when the young man begins a dalliance with Alice, who is helping in the Infirmary.  The claustrophic atmosphere of the monastery is increased by the severe winter weather and the dangerous marshland.

Although long-winded, the mystery is complex, and it is difficult as a reader to guess who is the murderer.  We come to know Matthew very well, dealing with the pain of his humped-back while attempting to maintain dignity and respect.  We see his failings and sometimes rigid religious views but also appreciate his kindness and consideration for others. The problems of keeping office and keeping your head while working for Cromwell’s government are all too evident and I found this account much more realistic than the Tudor world of Wolf Hall.

Dissolution can be purchased from Amazon UK

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The American Boy by Andrew Taylor

 

 

 

As Andrew Taylor’s latest book, The Ashes of London, is featured everywhere at present, I have put it on my TBR list. In the meantime, I am looking back at his earlier historical mystery, The American Boy.

Interweaving real and fictional elements, The American Boy is a literary historical crime novel in the tradition of Possession.

England 1819: Thomas Shield, a new master at a school just outside London, is tutor to a young American boy and the boy’s sensitive best friend, Charles Frant. Drawn to Frant’s beautiful, unhappy mother, Thomas becomes caught up in her family’s twisted intrigues. Then a brutal crime is committed, with consequences that threaten to destroy Thomas and all that he has come to hold dear. Despite his efforts, Shield is caught up in a deadly tangle of sex, money, murder and lies — a tangle that grips him tighter even as he tries to escape from it. And what of the strange American child, at the heart of these macabre events, yet mysterious — what is the secret of the boy named Edgar Allen Poe?

The American Boy is well researched and, for me at least, a page-turner.  It appears to be heavily influenced by Wilkie Collins writing.  I enjoyed following the developing mystery although I found the final denouement a little disappointing.

The reticence Thomas Shield shows to reveal the details of his tête-à-tête with Sophia, do perhaps carry the assumption of 18th century good taste a little too far but the romance certainly kept my interest in the fate of both characters.  His earlier confused attraction to two women was harder to believe but perhaps I don’t understand men well enough.  It is certainly true that Miss Carswell is a tantalising, enigmatic character, while Sophia seems aloof and unapproachable.

I am not happy with the chosen title and although Andrew Taylor gives his interest in the youth of Edgar Allan Poe as the raison d’être for this book, the boy seems to me to be only an incidental character and if anything is a conceit of the author.  Without great knowledge of Poe I suspect I am missing nuances in the text.

The pictures painted of the three locations, London, Gloucester and Monkshill Park are clearly delineated and atmospheric and the machinations of the plot built up convincingly.  Initially the novel adopts a leisurely pace but this gradually heats up.  In contrast to the interactions of the many characters involved in the story, there are also interludes of philosophical observation by Thomas Shield such as:-

For the first time in my life, I was about to be a man of substance.  The knowledge changed me.  Wealth may not bring happiness, but at least it has the power to avert certain causes of sorrow.  And it makes a man feel he has a place in the world,

which I particularly enjoyed.

I have read that Taylor initially wrote this story in the third person, but sensibly realised that Thomas Shield was an essential narrator to ensure the reader’s involvement.  I found him a very sympathetic character, in spite of his tendency to act like a Dr. Who heroine.

Teaser Tuesday #TuesdayBookBlog The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Jenn of Books And A Beat. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two or three “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Goddess

The Goddess and the Thief is the third book I have read by Essie Fox. It is described as      A beguiling and sensual Victorian novel of theft and obsession

Inside the cage, within the golden bars there perched a little silver bird, its surface engraved with feathers and flowers, very detailed, very intricate.  Its eyes were two pieces of gleaming jet.  A beak had somehow been engineered to open and close in time with the notes- until the music stuttered and died, which was when the bird’s breast split in two and opened to reveal its heart.  A green jewel in a nest of black velvet.  

Our souls are like birds within a cage, they long for the liberty of the air.

You can read about another of Essie’s books here.

Rusty Gold by Christine Campbell

Rusty

Rusty Gold is Book 3 of the stories of Mirabelle, the Reluctant Detective.  In Book 1 we had seen, Mirabelle’s daughter, Summer, choose to leave home without warning.  We followed the search for her all over Edinburgh and Mirabelle’s determination to find her daughter despite her sorrow and fears.  In the second book, Mirabelle has become the person, people in the area seek out, when they are searching for missing family members but in Rusty Gold, after four and a half years have passed, she has lost the confidence and wish to go on investigating for others.  She sacks her volunteer assistant, Kay, and wallows in her loneliness.

 

But other people don’t give up on Mirabelle.  Her larger than life determination and personality need to be revived and the turning point is when she hears that the dying mother of her long lost friend, Esme, needs her help.  Esme and her young friend, are in great danger, travelling around the island of Skye in an old campervan, unaware that dangerous criminals are after them.  Encouraged by the return of Detective Inspector Sam Burns into her life, Mirabelle asks Kay to accompany her and the two unlikely heroines try to save the day.

 

This book draws many threads from the earlier books together and we finally learn the full story of Summer’s conception and birth and how much Mirabelle loved her, despite her inability to be a good mother.  But the last few chapters are a thrilling adventure among the beautiful countryside of Skye, where all the women in this character driven series come into their own.  There is definitely a conclusion but there are also hints of further investigations for Mirabelle.  It is difficult to think of any other books quite like these and they could ideally be turned into a TV series.

Rosie's Book Review team 1

The Sans Pareil Mystery by Karen Charlton

Charlton

I read this 19th century detective story without realising that it was the second investigation in Regency London for Detective Lavender and Constable Woods, but this was no handicap.  Although Stephen Lavender is reserved, we slowly learn of his sad past, his new budding romance and his renowned detective abilities.  Assisted by dependable Ned Woods, he is able to cut through the mystery to the dangerous underlying plot, while dealing with his tortuous private life.

 

The other main character, Donᾶ Magdalena, has a troubled past and an insecure future, which aids the plot considerably.  I would have liked the villains to have had more substance and subtlety but the developing drama keeps the reader on the edge of her seat.

 

I enjoyed discovering more about the Bow Street Magistrates and the London theatre in 1810, without feeling that I was being taught.  It is a refreshing change to have a detective story set in this era.  The precarious position of women in a male dominated society is clearly shown while still maintaining the exciting drama and sweet romance.  I shall certainly be seeking out the earlier story of Lavender and Woods.

#AtoZChallenge Letter E

025-eleventh-century-02-e-q90-1372x1483  is for Ekphrasis

Ekphrasis is the theme of my A to Z Challenge.  It means responding to, or interpreting one form of Art in another form.  So a poem may describe a painting or express the poet’s emotional response to it or a poem may inspire an artist to paint a picture.  This is not the original Greek meaning of the word Ekphrasis but it has evolved into this usage.

E is also for Essie Fox.  She has written books which respond to and interpret famous works of art.  Essie’s debut novel The Somnambulist takes its title from the painting by Millais, showing a sleepwalker in a Victorian nightdress.  Essie visited Bonhams when the painting was being auctioned.

Somnambulist           a somnambulist bonhams

According to Essie, “Apart from the usual allusions to Wilkie Collins’ novel The Woman in White, and the opera by Bellini which is called La Sonnambula, it seems that the painting was also inspired by Millais’ admiration for Symphony in White No 1:  The White Girl by J. A. M. Whistler.”

Essie

Book Description of The Somnambulist by Essie Fox

When seventeen-year old Phoebe Turner visits Wilton’s Music Hall to watch her Aunt Cissy performing on stage, she risks the wrath of her mother Maud who marches with the Hallelujah Army, campaigning for all London theatres to close. While there, Phoebe is drawn to a stranger, the enigmatic Nathaniel Samuels who heralds dramatic changes in the lives of all three women. When offered the position of companion to Nathaniel’s reclusive wife, Phoebe leaves her life in London’s East End for Dinwood Court in Herefordshire — a house that may well be haunted and which holds the darkest of truths. In a gloriously gothic debut, Essie Fox weaves a spellbinding tale of guilt and deception, regret and lost love.

Link to list of other A to Z Challengers

 

The Lake House by Kate Morton

Lake House

The Lake house contains all the ingredients I have come to expect in a novel by Kate Morton: mystery, action in different eras, a beautiful house in Cornwall and more than one complex female protagonist.

The core story is of the Edevane family who lived in Leoanneth, a large house by a lake in Cornwall, from 1911 until 1933.  An idyllic love story is blighted by the First World War and as their family life appears to be blossoming again, tragedy strikes.

Moving to 2003, we meet Sadie Sparrow, a feisty police sergeant who has let her emotions take over when investigating the case of an abandoned child.  Visiting her grandfather, Bertie in Cornwall she inadvertently discovers Leoanneth, overgrown and deserted.  Soon she is putting her experience to good use trying to discover what happened on that fateful Midsummer Eve in 1933.  As she researches old newspapers and case notes, we encounter Alice Edevane, who was 16 in 1933 and is now a very successful crime write of 86.  Will she help Sadie or will she keep her secrets?

The intricate plot weaves threads together in a most satisfying way.  The book has a glorious sense of time, of the echoes glimpsed momentarily.  Sadie, Alice and Alice’s mother Eleanor gradually reveal themselves as the book progresses.  They all share sadness and loss which they hide behind strong personas.

Some readers may feel that all the puzzles are solved too perfectly, but I was sad to leave this long beautiful book.