Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Twelfth Century Coroner

The Mistress of the Art of Death, written by Ariana Franklin, is the story of a young prodigy from the University of Salarno in Italy who is asked by the King of Sicily to travel to England and find out who is brutally killing children. The English have accused the Jews of this atrocity, and Henry II, the king of England, is concerned because the Jews are a great source of revenue for him. However, this young prodigy happens to be a woman, Adelia. In Italy, this is not a problem, but in England, it is. She is forced to hide her true identity so as to avoid being charged with witchcraft. Adelia is traveling with an Italian investigator as well. His name is Simon and he brings further complications; he is a Jew himself. But, he is determined to find the monster committing these crimes, be he Jew or Gentile.

I enjoy books that deal with forensic anthropology, and this one is no exception. The fact that it takes place in the Twelfth Century adds to the allure. The plot is complex and there are quite a few characters. But the book is so engrossing that it isn't difficult to keep track of who is who and what is happening.

I enjoyed the growth that Franklin portrays in Adelia. This woman who has been hidden for years in her studies of death is now out in the real world dealing with living, breathing, feeling human beings. And this immersion in life changes her in ways she has difficulty understanding. Simon becomes someone she trusts and admires. She enjoys spending time with Prior Geoffrey, her first patient in England. She develops a special relationship with Ulf, the young grandson of their housekeeper. And she feels a romantic attraction for Sir Rowley Picot, a man who is very unlike herself. I had a little trouble with that relationship, though. She seemed to make a drastic change all of a sudden as opposed to a gradual realization. And that was my only criticism of the novel.

In an author's note at the end of the book, the author explains true events that were the basis for the novel. Those events coupled with the details of the time period make the novel almost a time travel. Being engrossed in the pages takes you away to a land and a time completely different from the modern world, but sharing many of the same human tendencies.

This was an outstanding novel.


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