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