Sunday, February 07, 2010
Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
Protagonist: Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar
Setting: Cambridge, England, 12th century
It’s hard to combine history with a mystery thriller – and, in fact, some people have taken issue with some of the historical details of this novel – but for my part, this was a gripping, entertaining read. It’s the year 1170, and the King of England has asked his cousin, the King of Sicily for help. Children are being murdered in Cambridge, and the populace has blamed the Jews, shutting them in a castle. But Henry Plantagenet is anxious to clear the Jews, for they are the money lenders, and therefore very valuable in raising tax revenue. The King of Sicily sends a team of three to help – Simon of Naples, a highly skilled investigator, Adelia Aguilar, a sort of coroner, or “mistress of the art of death,” and Mansur, a Saracen and eunuch sent to protect Adelia. When a young boy Adelia has befriended is kidnapped, the hunt becomes even more frantic.
Into this mix throw in a bit of romance (which could get dicey, but adds to the novel’s enjoyment here as Adelia debates with herself marriage versus her career as physician) and a substory involving the Crusades. There are also several plot twists, even after the killer is found out. All in all, a highly enjoyable Medieval mystery.