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Franklin, Ariana - 'Mistress of the Art of Death'
Hardback: 400 pages (May 2007) Publisher: Bantam Press ISBN: 0593056493

This is a brilliantly researched and very well crafted book which immediately transports you, the reader, back to the times of Geoffrey Chaucer. The author even introduces her main characters travelling in a group, for safety, by road to Cambridge using a similar pattern to what I recall being used last in the prologue to the CANTERBURY TALES when I read it all those years ago.

Amongst the travellers we meet Adelia, the 'mistress of the art of death', who has been asked by the King of Sicily, as a favour to Henry Plantagenet, to go to Cambridge as a child has been savagely murdered and all the population are blaming the Jewish inhabitants. The Jews hold all the wealth and pay the most tax and King Henry is worried that all of this revenue will disappear and therefore asks for Simon of Naples, an Arab and Adelia, the doctor. As it was very much a masculine world at that time, Adelia, who was a fully trained doctor had to pretend that the Arab was the doctor and she his assistant, instead of the reverse.

Once they arrive in Cambridge, as doctors were very rare at that time, Adelia spends a great deal of time treating the ailments of the general population whilst getting familiar with the locality. The general population hates the Jews mainly because of religious bigotry and as more small children get killed, they become further inflamed.

Adelia makes a lot of friends with the patients she treats and even experiences some romance. But one young boy she befriends disappears and she fears for his life and in her frenzied search for him she comes across the killer who is completely mad and getting ready for another killing.

Apart from the mystery the author takes great pains to explain the art of medicine from the 12th century point of view which I found very interesting. I thought that this book was the most satisfying historical mystery that I've read all year and I hope that I have more of that pleasure to come.

Read another review of MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH.

Terry Halligan, England
August 2007

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 13/06/2009 20:00