Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

8d781baDEA114d286f59394f4b5251434d414f4541Mistress of the Art of Death

by Ariana Franklin

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 2007

What a great way to start my first R.I.P. challenge!  This is a great book, intriguing, well-written and fun.

Mistress of the Art of Death is an historical mystery novel, a genre I’m not very familiar with, but one I plan to explore.

Ariana Franklin is the pen name of  author Diana Norman, a retired British journalist who has written several biographies and historical novels.

In twelfth century Cambridge children are disappearing and being brutally murdered.  The Catholic townspeople are blaming the  Jews.  To save them from the raging mob the Jews are put under the king’s protection. King Henry II values them for their taxes and decides to intervene.  He sends to Sicily, to his cousin King  William, and asks that he send him a “master in the art of death”.

At that time the University of Salerno was training doctors who practised the most modern forms of medicine, including the new science of  forensics.  William sends an investigator, Simon of Naples and a student “expert in the morbid processes” but also a a speaker of several languages.  It just happens that this student is a women,  Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortses Aquilar.

The England of the twelfth century is backwards and steeped in superstition.  Adelia must struggle against religious prejudice, belief based on ignorance  and the debasement of women.  She must discover a  horrific murderer who is laying blame on the Jews and will likely kill again.  When asked to attend vespers and pray for the dead children her response is:

I’m not here to pray for them..I have come to speak for them.

Franklin’s characters are well drawn, their interactions believable and the historical tidbits are fascinating. It is a shame King Henry II is remembered only for the assassination of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and not for his system of Common Law.

I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery and plan to read the others in the series, The Serpent’s Tale and Grave Goods.

If you have any suggestions for other historical mysteries you think I would enjoy please leave a comment!

Other reviews:


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Filed under Challenges, R.I.P. IV

10 responses to “Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

  1. Did you find the dialogue a bit too modern? I remember starting to read this a few years back, and I feel like I was bothered by the anachronistic dialogue. But maybe that’s my imagination…

    • Jenny – The dialogue in Mistress of the Art of Death is a bit modern but I was so swept up in the story I didn’t really notice it. It really was my first experience with middle ages historical mystery (other than The Name of the Rose) and I want to read more. Any suggestions?

  2. This one is on its way to me. I hope to read it soon, glad to hear you enjoyed it.

  3. I’ve heard excellent things about this series. I look forward to seeing what recommendations you get for historical mysteries, as the genre also appeals to me. Another series I keep hearing great things about is the one about Brother Cadfael

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  5. I have this book on my bedside table. Thank you for this terrific review — you’ve piqued my interest even further. :-)

  6. I hadn’t heard of this one, but the cover is incredible, the book sounds exactly like the kind of thing I would like to read, and your review has certainly put this on my radar. I am so glad your first R.I.P. read was such a success!

    • Carl V. – Thank you, thank you, thank you for organizing the R.I.P. challenge! I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Mistress of the Art of Death. I hope you enjoy it when you read it.

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