Monday, July 23, 2007

The Mistress of the Art of Death

There used to be a time in my life when I read quite a few forensic style mysteries. This is the first I have read in a while - this title being a choice of our grown-up summer book club.

The year is 1170 and the place is Cambridgeshire, England. Children are disappearing, and the village is up in arms. Surely the town Jews are to blame. Child sacrifice is part of the culture afterall, isn't it?

King Henry needs to keep all elements of his kingdom in line. He needs the tax money from all areas, he needs peace. He tells his tax collector "Peace is money, Aaron, and money is peace." (p.10)

So how to solve these disappearances? Henry calls for one of the best detectives from Italy by way of his cousin, the King of Sicily. Simon of Naples is to come over to clear the name of the town Jews, and to find out what really happend. And to accompany him, a master in the art of death will come as well. This person is schooled in reading dead bodies for clues as to how they were killed. What Henry and Simon do not count on is that this person is a woman. Adelia is the child of professors and a student from the University of of the only places where a woman is allowed an education.

How will she fare in medieval England where the Church rules as well as the King, and women with knowledge are oft accused of witchcraft? And what will happen to those accused when the children start surfacing -- their bodies obviously violated before death in numerous ways?

Ariana Franklin has written quite the page turner. And, I have to say it ... eeewww! Lots of detail that I would have done quite well without. Mind you, the detail is not over-the-top in a gore for the sake of it way. It certainly ties in with the plot. But what made this title so readable for me, were the characters and their development. Adelia herself is complicated, smart, and torn. Little Ulf is utterly charming in his own messy way, as is his grandmother Glytha.

The reader also gets a real sense of the racism, religious fervor, and overall danger of the times. Unless you were a catholic, white man, your very existence could be wiped out with very little consequence.

While this title didn't capture me as much as last summer's The Historian, I did learn quite a bit about the time period, and it has spurred me on to want to read some non-fiction about the times.

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