Wednesday, March 18, 2009

TBR Challenge: Mistress of the Art of Death; Ariana Franklin

I picked this title to read for the TBR Challenge over at Keishon's blog Avid Reader. Link to Ms. Franklin's site is in the title above. This title was published in the US by Putnam's Sons in 2007. The image here is of the audio edition becaue the cover is brighter & sharper than the others I found. I read the book. Image from MOTAOD is set in 1171 Cambridge England. I was captured by the jacket sleeve description and the cover image. I absolutely love historical mysteries, especially ones that start with a bang and capture my interest right off the bat. Which happens less often than you might think.

Beginning in the previous year several children have been brutally murdered. The convenient scapegoat was the local Jewish population, who have since been locked in the sheriff's castle for their own protection. The King is in a politically and financially delicate situation. He needs the Jews released because they are, in effect, the nation's bankers. He's also responsible for the safety of the population, and perhaps he should try to see that justice is served. Er. So how to exact justice without unduly roiling the peasants or the Church? Because, you know, the murder of Thomas a Becket caused Henry no end of problems. This is an actual event: four of Henry's men behead Becket in church during the vespers service. The aftermath of Becket's murder has a direct impact on Adelia & her investigation into the deaths, which is why I raise this point here. Hmm. Now that I think of it, one of Adelia's suspects shares a name with one of the known participants in Becket's murder. Nice touch. Icky though. *shiver*

Arriving in England from Salerno Italy are Adelia Aguilar, a female physician specializing in death and decomposition; Simon Menahem, an elderly man in the employ of the King of Sicily & her escort and a tall, imposing Muslim named Mansur who happens to be Adelia's servant. Along the main road to Cambridge Adelia has the great good fortune to come across Prior Geoffrey, an Augustinian with significant power and influence in the region. In rescuing Prior Geoffrey from an enlarged prostate, Adelia wins herself an ally who is able to set her up in Cambridge and set the trio off on the right foot. Also playing meaningful roles are Gyltha the housekeeper (and Geoffrey's former paramour) and her nine year old grandson Ulf. Oh yes, remember too the smelly dog Safeguard.

Anyhow. First, this is not history lite. Second, I will warn you that the end section of the book is exceptionally gruesome without being explicit. Third, the relationship between Adelia and Sir Roland Picot the King's tax collector is prickly- yet also disarming & realistic. A nice touch. I like them together, they balance each other. All of the characters are drawn in with a very sharp attention to detail, very realistic and rounded. I admit to figuring out the identity of the 'bad guy', but it took me a good while and I really wasn't 100% sure until the end.

An excellent book. I plan to collect this author.


Kailana said...

I am so happy that you are reading this series! I enjoy it! I just read the third book last month, but this one remains my favourite. Other people say they get better as you go along. I guess it just depends on the reader. :)

Bookwormom said...

Kailana~ Now all I have to do is go out & find them all! I do so love book hunting!

Shon said...

Love this author and she writes under her real name of Diana Norman, too and I've collected her stuff and read them as well. Excellent author.


Bookwormom said...

Shon~ Thanks for the heads up re: AF's 'RL name', I'll have to see if I can find any.

Jenster said...

This was one of my favorite books of last year! I'm collecting her stuff, too. Another of my favorites were the Deanna Rayborn (?) mystery books. Have you read them?