Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mistress of the Art of Death

by Ariana Franklin
New York : Berkley Books, 2008.

In 1170, a child is found brutally murdered in Cambridge, and the townspeople are quick to blame the Jews. King Henry II doesn't particularly care about the Jewish people, but he does care about his lost income now that they are holed up in a castle for their own protection, and arranges to have someone sent to investigate. Enter Adelia, a woman doctor from Salerno, and her traveling companions Simon and Mansur, who arrive to look into the matter.

The best historical fiction, to my mind, teaches you something about a time period, a people, or a culture while telling a really good story. This book does that in spades, giving such information about the Church at that time, medicine, and more. Yet there's no time for an information dump, because the story reads fast, at first because there is a lot of dialog and short paragraphs and, as the story progresses, an ever-faster pace as we draw closer to the conclusion. I have to say, the identity of the murderer was not all that surprising to me (one of a few people I had on my own suspects list), but exactly how it happened and how everything was resolved was indeed unexpected. In this sort of book, you're always on the lookout for glaring anachronisms. Adelia herself is the biggest anachronism of all - not so much because she's a woman doctor, which is handled believably, but because of her modern ideas and practices. The others are dealt with well in the author's note. The descriptions of the dead and what had been done to them was a bit much for the squeamish side of me. Granted, I was reading so fast much of this washed over me and I only noticed looking back.

If you really enjoy historical mysteries, this is the first in the series and well worth reading. Ariana Franklin is the pen name of Diana Norman, a British journalist and author, who sadly passed away in 2011.

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