Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mistress of the Art of What Now?

If you’re a fan of historical mysteries (particularly Ellis Peters’ well-known and beloved Cadfael series), you absolutely must try Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death, the first in her Adelia Aguilar series. So likely is the comparison between Ellis Peters and Ariana Franklin that Franklin actually won the Ellis Peters Historical Award in 2007.

Set during the reign of King Henry II in 1171 (just a few decades after Cadfael’s time), Adelia Aguilar, a young (female!) doctor trained in determining the manner of death (a mistress of the art of death, if you will) is sent many miles over land and sea to King Henry so she can exercise her unusual skills to find a brutal serial murderer of children in Cambridge. [Fair warning of the book’s disturbing violence from your friendly local librarian.] Adelia is joined in her effort to catch the sicko by her two unusual sidekicks: Mansur, a Muslim eunuch, and Simon of Naples, a Jewish detective of sorts.

Franklin’s writing lacks the literary quality that characterized much of Peters’ work, but it offers a gripping and sometimes (okay, maybe more than just sometimes) grisly window into 12th century England, not to mention some seriously old school CSI-style forensic investigation.

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