Murder Henry VIII Style: Review of C.J. Sampson’s Dissolution



C.J. Sampson came up with a good series, at least as far as I have gotten so far. Dissolution is a mystery set during the reign of King Henry VIII. It is a dark time, a time when no one is safe. Anne Boleyn has been executed. The king has taken his third wife Jane Seymour, whose relatives include Catholic sympathizers and monks. Persecution of Catholics, if not at an all-time high, pale only to that of his daughter, Bloody Mary, who will succeed him after his death, in her persecution of Protestants. The person who inspired me to start this series noted drily that although America’s Founders cited to King George’s abuses as their motivation in encouraging and supporting independence from and revolution against Britain, King George’s abuses were nothing compare to that perpetuated by King Henry VIII. The laundry list is long. Brutal suppression of anything or any person speaking against the king or for Catholicism or against reform, fabricating of charges against people, execution for minor offenses, execution of Queen Anne Boleyn and others on false adultery and treason charges, coercion of confessions and jury verdicts, and treatment of subjects as little more than pawns in Henry VIII’s quest to be an absolute ruler are just some.

Throughout, running as an undercurrent, the monks are facing dire times. Their monastery, like all others, are being condemned for ill-living, actions that may have been common place but are cited as not being examples for aspiring Christians. To be Catholic is to be a heretic. The monastery faces being shut down as abbots all over England are forced to watch their brethren sign surrender documents giving up control of their monasteries and their calling as monks.

A commissioner appointed by Thomas Cromwell, who is investigating the goings-on at the monastery, is found murdered, beheaded. More people die, monks included, while the investigation by another commissioner, a lawyer Matthew Shardlake is underway. A romance flourishes between Shardlake’s idealistic helper and a servant girl with certain ties that she prefers to keep hidden, a previous death of another servant girl comes to light, Queen Jane dies and Anne of Cleves marries the king setting up Cromwell’s eventual demise, and an Augustine monk, a relative in the Seymour family creates havoc inside the monastery, and without through secret letters sent to relatives of Queen Jane at the court.

C.J. Sampson’s writing style was not the exciting, keep you on the edge of your seat, pace. The story flows however and there are no parts that I would have deleted. Two things that I could not quite believe—a woman that is not stout who has the power and strength to swing a sword effectively, and how the killer got away before the king’s men could get to the monastery. A question I had was also left unanswered: Was the killer’s presence at the monastery fortuitous or planned? I will stop there because anymore it gets into telling the end. C.J. Samson wraps up the story with a nod of “just desserts” for Thomas Cromwell, and King Henry VIII.