Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Mistress of the Art of Death Review

Mistress of the Art of Death
-          Ariana Franklin
Publisher: UK – Bantam Books
England, 1171 and a child is in danger…In Cambridge a child has been hideously murdered and other children have disappeared. The Jews, who provide a large part of Henry, King of England’s revenue, are being made scapegoats by the all-powerful Christian clergy, therefore the king wants the real killer found, and quickly. A renowned investigator, Simon of Naples, is recruited, aided by an Arab and a young woman, Adelia Aguilar. There are few female doctors in twelfth century Europe, but Adelia is one of them. 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, attracts the attention of a murderer who is prepared to kill again.

Adelia is a doctor in a time when female doctors were rare, in a country that is not her own and hunting a child killer which has been blamed on the local Jewish community.  She has to struggle with British expectations of her gender verses her medical training in order to ‘read’ the dead which makes her a very modern type of woman – independent, educated and determined.  At first she struck me as quite a hard woman and I struggled to relate to her, but over the course of the story she becomes attached to those around her and develops relationships with those in the town, which softens her and by the end I was wishing for a happy ending for her. The other characters are intriguing, but I did struggle at times with the long sentences which flowed from past to present through descriptive passages without too many stops along the way. But as the story progressed I found myself more immersed in the hunt and it bothered me less.
The political situation of the era places a large part in the story with friction between the Church and Henry II and between the Jews and the Christians adding a lot of colour and danger to the investigation of a killer. I’m not sure how accurate it is (that’s why I’m reading fiction rather than non-fiction!), but it felt real and I was curious to know about that time period. It was a good story and the search for the killer is well thought out with twists and turns that keep you guessing – although I was happy to see I had guessed correctly!
A historical crime book that covers medieval England, the feud between state and church, a vicious killer, romance and an early form of forensic investigation.
Recommended for fans of Ellis Peters and CSI. 7 out of 10.
I recieved this book as part of the Transworld Great Crime Caper
Book Chick City's Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge Book 3/12


  1. Ellis Peters and CSI . . . nice mix! This series has been on my radar for a while now, but I hadn't seen much in the way of reviews. I'll have to nudge this a bit higher in my TBR pile. Thanks.

  2. Hm... my mom really might get into this one. I'll have to let her know about it. I'm more of a NCIS girl, but that is mostly because of Abby. :D