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Mistress of the Art of Death by Arianna Franklin

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LCW
Compulsive Reader
Location: Southern California

Mistress of the Art of Death by Arianna Franklin

Postby LCW » Tue August 26th, 2008, 5:23 pm

In 12th Century Cambridge, children are dissapearing and turning up dead...with horribly mutilated bodies. Immediately the zealous Christians suspect the jews and a they attack the local jewery. For their own safety the Jews are kept in the castle away from danger. But they can't work and no income for them means no income for the King. So King Henry sends for the medieval equivalent of today's coroner from a top medical school in Salerno italy, a Master of the Art of Death.

Instead, he gets Adelia, a Mistress of the Art of Death, who is accompanied by Simon, the Jewish investigatory, and Mansur, a large Muslim eunuch who is Adelia's bodyguard. In the hysterical and superstitious climate of Cambridge, and in order to avoid a charge of witchcraft, Mansur poses as the doctor and Adelia his assisant. All three begin the difficult task of examining the childrens bodies, gathering the clues, and searching for the killer.

This book is sort of a cross between CSI and Silence of the lambs. The actual mystery is interesting and kept my attention but I kept getting pulled out of the book by dialogue or some historical fact that just didn't seem right. The characters, esp. Adelia, all have very modern attitudes and just weren't believable. Additionally the story went on way too long after the killer is revealed.

I liked the author's writing style though and it was infused with a lot of dry humor which I enjoyed. So ultimately although I did have issues with certain aspects of the book, they weren't so bad that I regret reading it. If you can over look the modern attitudes and anachronisms and just read it for the story itself I think you'll really like it.

3/5 stars

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Kailana
Reader
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada
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Postby Kailana » Wed August 27th, 2008, 3:25 am

There is another sequel to this book due out next year... Personally I liked this book, but the sequel wasn't that great. I probably still will read the other one, though

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diamondlil
Bibliomaniac

Postby diamondlil » Wed August 27th, 2008, 10:56 am

These were my thoughts when I read it a couple of years ago. I am currently reading the sequel myself.


In Cambridge, a child has been hideously murdered and other children have disappeared. The Jews, made scapegoats by the all-powerful Christian clergy, have been forced to retreat into the castle to avoid slaughter by angry townspeople.

Henry, King of England, is displeased. The Jews provide a large part of his revenue and therefore the real killer must be found, and quickly. A renowned investigator, Simon of Naples, is recruited and he arrives in town from the continent accompanied by an Arab and a young woman, Adelia Aguilar.

There are few female doctors in twelfth century Europe, but Adelia is one of them, having qualified at the great School of Medicine in Salerno. What's more, her speciality is the study of corpses; she is, in fact, a mistress of the art of death, a skill that must be concealed in case she's accused of witchcraft.

Adelia's investigation takes her deep into Cambridge, its castle and convents and in a medieval city teeming with life, Adelia makes friends and even finds romance. And, fatally, the attention of a murderer who is prepared to kill again.





As soon as I learned that the name Ariana Franklin was a pseudonym for Diana Norman, I added it to my TBR list! I did, however, have to wait a little while for it to come onto the library list but it did eventually! I was a bit worried that it wasn't going to because the first book written under this name (City of Shadows) still hasn't made it onto the catalogue! I am too impatient after reading this one...I've ordered it from The Book Depository (have I mentioned recently how much I love that store...it is so much cheaper for me to buy books from there than it is to go into a bookstore here.)

A young boy is found murdered and because he was crucified before being found in the river, and now two more children are missing. The finger has been pointed at the Jews of Cambridge, the townspeople have revolted against them and now the Jews are sheltering in the castle. This situation doesn't make anyone happy - least of all the volatile King Henry II, who now not only has to feed all these people, but whose treasury is now falling woefully short of funds because the Jews are not paying him his share! Something must be done.

And so, at the behest of the King of Sicily, our main characters enter the story. He has agreed to send some investigators to help hopefully clear the name of the Cambridge Jews, to find out who the murderer really was, and to set matters to rights again. The group that is sent to England is an interesting one. There is Simon the Jew, Mansur the Saracen and a young female doctor by the name of Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar. Whilst a female doctor is not all that unusual in the medical schools of Salerno, it is unheard of in 12th century England, and steps have to be taken to make it appear as though Mansur is the doctor in order to ensure that there are no accusations of witchcraft. Even in Salerno Adelia is somewhat unusual though, because she is no ordinary doctor. She is a Mistress of the Art of Death, someone who looks at a body and tries to figure out how they died - performing an early kind of autopsy.

The book opens at a cracking pace, with all of the main characters, including our investigators, a prioress and a prior who never see eye to eye, a couple of crusader knights, the king's tax man all travelling together in convoy heading towards Cambridge. Unfortunately the prior has a very delicate problem. He is unable to urinate, and his bladder is in danger of bursting, so it is Adelia to the rescue, performing a very sensitive operation on the Prior, and thus ensuring that they have at least one person on their side once they get to Cambridge. Coincidentally, as the group arrive in the town, so the bodies of the other missing children turn up to, and so Adelia is able to commence her examinations.

It isn't long before the townspeople know that they have a new doctor in town, and so not only are the investigators required to try and determined how and why the children died, and who killed them, but also maintain the masquerade that Mansur is the doctor and Adelia is his assistant.

With the field of suspects narrowing, everyone is now in danger, and Adelia and her companions must decide who to trust, especially as she is feeling a growing attachment to one of the suspects, who is the King's tax man, Sir Rowley Picolt. The growing relationship between the two of them was deftly handled, without being completely cliched, and whilst the resolution may have been somewhat unusual and unlikely, it did suit the two characters involved.

With a great group of supporting characters, colourful descriptions of time and place, conflict between Church and state, between religions and between man and woman, there is a lot going on in this novel, but for the most part the author manages to keep all the threads in hand and neatly weaves them together for a very chilling showdown with the killer, and the resulting trials were very dramatic as well.

The characters that have been introduced in this book are certainly interesting and colourful, and would fit naturally in a series, so I was glad to hear that there is another Mistress book to come! No idea when it is coming..but just the fact that it is is enough for now!

Rating 4/5

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Wed August 27th, 2008, 7:19 pm

Love the "Adelia" series. On the late lamented HFF we discovered more about the third title from Sarah Johnson's Reading the Past blog.
And I believe that there may even be a fourth book in the works.

The character of Adelia is also interesting in light of Margaret's research into medieval Sicily, as this is where Adelia grew up and trained as a physician, so there's quite a bit of detail about life in Sicily included in the MOTAOD.

Adelia was probably inspired by Trotula of Salerno, an C11th physician.
EC wrote a couple of entertaining articles on her Living the History blog, about a book on Trotula which she had been reading.
http://livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com/2008/03/im-worth-it-with-apologies-to-loreal.html
http://livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com/2008/03/trotula-rides-again.html
Thanks, EC!
Last edited by annis on Wed August 27th, 2008, 8:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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diamondlil
Bibliomaniac

Postby diamondlil » Sat August 30th, 2008, 10:22 am

The third book is going to be called Grave Goods, and I am pretty sure that I saw news of a publishing deal for the fourth book somewhere as well.

Ah yes, here it is:

Ariana Franklin’s MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH, Book 4, featuring a 12th-century CSI, to Rachel Kahan at Putnam and Laura Shin at Penguin Canada, for publication in Spring 2010, by Helen Heller at Helen Heller Agency.

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Kailana
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Location: Nova Scotia, Canada
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Postby Kailana » Sat August 30th, 2008, 7:38 pm

I should probably dig through my blog archives and find my reviews of these two books... I think I reviewed both of them...

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diamondlil
Bibliomaniac

Postby diamondlil » Sat August 30th, 2008, 9:53 pm

I think that they are both up at Historical Tapestry Kailana.

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Kailana
Reader
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada
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Postby Kailana » Sat August 30th, 2008, 11:05 pm

Oh, cool. I am working and not supposed to be online, but I will have to see what I can find when I get off. :)

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Margaret
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favorite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
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Postby Margaret » Sun October 19th, 2008, 5:55 am

Trotula of Salerno sounds really fascinating - someone ought to write a novel about her.

I didn't, actually, feel bothered by a sense that the characters' attitudes were too modern in Mistress of the Art of Death. I'm no expert on medieval Salerno, but since I'd been reading a bit about medieval Sicily and southern Italy, I knew that Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in more-or-less harmony together there, so the attitudes of the Italian characters seemed fairly reasonable to me. And if there were a few slips, Franklin/Norman made up for it with her portrait of Henry II, which I loved (there's a scene at the end that is especially good). I took a class in Legal History once, during my ultimately abandoned legal education, so this was a side of Henry that I found especially interesting, and a little different from the usual portrait offered.

My own review of Mistress of the Art of Death is here.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings and over 650 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

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Amanda
Compulsive Reader
Location: Sydney, Australia

Postby Amanda » Mon June 1st, 2009, 5:02 am

Heads up for this one!

There is a group read of Mistress of the Art of Death starting on LibraryThing today. Apparently the author is going to join the discussion at some stage. I will keep an eye out and update when I find out when she is going to join in.

Here is the link:

http://www.librarything.com/groups/mistressoftheartofde


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