Book Review: Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

Children are gruesomely killed in Cambridge and the Jewish community are blamed, resulting in them being holed up for their own safety in the Castle. Unfortunately this affects the King’s revenues – and Henry II is not pleased.  He wants the mess cleaned up and the perpetrators found – fast. He calls on the King of Naples to send him a Doctor specialising in the Dead from the famed School of Medicine in Salerno.  They send him a woman – Adelia Aguilar. 

Given that there are few female doctors in Europe, this doesn’t make her task very easy especially since her skill is in the study of corpses which could lead to accusations of witchcraft.  Forced to tread very carefully, hiding her true identity Adelia with the aid of investigator Simon of Naples try to solve the murders. It becomes clear that the murders span a very long period of time – going back into atrocities committed in the Holy Land during the Crusades. Then Simon is killed.  Adelia’s life is in danger – can she survive?  A turbulent period is brilliantly recreated, highlighting the problems faced by Henry II in dealing with the Church.  The ending is somewhat unexpected – especially in terms of punishments!  Worth reading. Adelia is an interesting character, providing insights to an unusual way of life in medieval times.  Franklin’s research has clearly been thorough and it shows
in the quality of the writing.