Mistress of the Art of Death (Mistress of the Art of Death Series #1)

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Overview

A chilling, mesmerizing novel that combines the best of modern forensic thrillers with the detail and drama of historical fiction

In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been murdered. The crimes are immediately blamed on the town's Jewish community, taken as evidence that Jews sacrifice Christian children in blasphemous ceremonies. To save them from the rioting mob, the king places the Cambridge Jews under his protection and hides ...
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Mistress of the Art of Death (Mistress of the Art of Death Series #1)

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Overview

A chilling, mesmerizing novel that combines the best of modern forensic thrillers with the detail and drama of historical fiction

In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been murdered. The crimes are immediately blamed on the town's Jewish community, taken as evidence that Jews sacrifice Christian children in blasphemous ceremonies. To save them from the rioting mob, the king places the Cambridge Jews under his protection and hides them in a castle fortress. King Henry I is no friend of the Jews-or anyone, really-but he is invested in their fate. Without the taxes received from Jewish merchants, his treasuries would go bankrupt. Hoping scientific investigation will exonerate the Jews, Henry calls on his cousin the King of Sicily-whose subjects include the best medical experts in Europe-and asks for his finest "master of the art of death," an early version of the medical examiner. The Italian doctor chosen for the task is a young prodigy from the University of Salerno. But her name is Adelia-the king has been sent a mistress of the art of death.

Adelia and her companions-Simon, a Jew, and Mansur, a Moor-travel to England to unravel the mystery of the Cambridge murders, which turn out to be the work of a serial killer, most likely one who has been on Crusade with the king. In a backward and superstitious country like England, Adelia must conceal her true identity as a doctor in order to avoid accusations of witchcraft. Along the way, she is assisted by Sir Rowley Picot, one of the king's tax collectors, a man with a personal stake in the investigation. Rowley may be a needed friend, or the fiend for whom they are searching. As Adelia's investigation takes her into Cambridge's shadowy river paths and behind the closed doors of its churches and nunneries, the hunt intensifies and the killer prepares to strike again...
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Somebody is killing the Christian children of Cambridge. In 12th-century England, Jews are obvious scapegoats for such outrages, but in this case, King Henry II hesitates to prosecute whole groups of potential taxpayers. To quell the uproar, he secretly summons a female coroner to track down the real culprits. As City of Shadows author Arianna Franklin leads us through the brutal realities of feudal life, we follow plot twists as tight as merchant paths in ancient cities. A masterfully crafted historical whodunit.
Marilyn Stasio
… the lonely figure who truly stands out in Franklin’s vibrant tapestry of medieval life is King Henry — an enlightened monarch condemned to live in dark times.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Had Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael been born a few decades later, he might have found a worthy associate and friend in Dr. Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar of Salerno, a short and short-tempered medieval coroner hired in secret by King Henry II to find out who's behind the horrific murders of Christian children in Cambridge, England. Prominent local Jews stand accused; Henry wants them freed, mostly for the sake of their tax revenue. As Adelia examines the children's bodies and gets to know the people of Cambridge, she has no trouble assembling a long list of suspects, but she encounters considerable difficulty trying to narrow it down, a struggle in which the reader gladly joins her. Not all of the plot twists are surprising and the romantic subplot is an unnecessary afterthought, but Franklin (City of Shadows) has developed a skillful blend of historical fact and gruesome fiction that's more than sufficient to keep readers interested and entertained. (Feb.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
It is 1171 in Cambridge, England, and Henry II is beside himself. Four children have been found murdered and mutilated, and the townsfolk of Cambridge are blaming the Jews, who have taken shelter in the castle. King Henry is less concerned about the murderer than the tax revenue he is losing while the Jewish community languishes in the fortress. He appeals to the king of Sicily to send him a master of the art of death-one who can look at the deceased and determine how he or she died. Adelia, a mistress of this art, arrives with a group of returning pilgrims. Along with a eunuch escort named Mansur and Simon of Naples, a Jew with an affinity for detection, she must piece together the mystery of these hideous crimes before the monster kills again. In her second historical novel (after City of Shadows), Franklin (the pen name of British writer Diana Norman) presents a fascinating character in Adelia, who is odd for her era and profession yet familiar in her flaws and complexity. This novel will surely please mystery fans as well as lovers of historical fiction. Recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/06.]-Anna M. Nelson, Collier Cty. P.L., Naples, FL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
CSI meets The Canterbury Tales. After an unexceptional debut (City of Shadows, 2006), Franklin hits commercial paydirt with this criminal investigation drama set in 12th-century England. Led by "doctor to the dead" Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar-Adelia for short-the trio also includes Simon of Naples ("agent, investigator, go-between, reconnoitrer, spy") and Mansur, Adelia's bodyguard and servant, who is also a Muslim and a eunuch. Trained at the Salerno School of Medicine, Adelia is a brilliant forensic pathologist, but in superstitious England she risks denunciation as a witch. The three are commanded, however-by whom is a mystery-to investigate the brutal murder of four children in Cambridge, deaths that are being blamed on the Jews, whose resultant persecution is disrupting society and business. Adelia's scrutiny of the corpses hints at a serial killer with a taste for mutilation and woven quincunxes. Other clues suggest the culprit may be among the latest group of pilgrims to have returned from Canterbury, although a couple of crusaders, including burly tax collector Sir Rowley Picot, also fall under suspicion. Then Simon is murdered and Adelia finds an unexpected ally in Sir Rowley, who reveals he has been pursuing a child-murderer. Softened by Simon's death, Adelia also realizes she is falling for Sir Rowley. After pestilence at the convent and the kidnapping of Ulf, the housekeeper's son, there's a showdown on Wandlebury Hill and the villain is torn to pieces by a pack of hounds. Patchy pacing and anachronisms aside, Franklin has devised an appealing amalgam of genres. The second Adelia story already has a title and plot. A potentially winning formula, delivered withpanache. First printing of 150,000. Agent: Helen Heller/Helen Heller Literary Agency
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Ariana Franklin is the pen name of British writer Diana Norman. A bestselling author and former journalist, she lives in England with her husband, the film critic Barry Norman.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 165 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(82)

4 Star

(49)

3 Star

(14)

2 Star

(8)

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(12)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 166 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Fantastic historical mystery

    In 1171 England, the Jews were given a haven under King Henry¿s rule, not because he liked them but they paid one seventh of the monies in the royal treasury. In the town of Cambridge, four children have disappeared and the body of only one has been found. A rumor begins that Jews killed the child. In retaliation a mob went on a killing spree, bodily tearing apart two Jews while the survivors take sanctuary in Cambridge Castle.----------------- In Sicily the king at the request of Henry II sends three people (Simon a Jew, Mansur a Muslim and the doctor of the dead Adelia Agutar) to England to find the killer. When they arrive the dead bodies of the three children are waiting for their analysis. Adelia knows that all the victims were killed by the same murderer. Adelia who misses her native Salerno finds a place for herself in England and during the course of her investigation she teams up with tax collector Sir Rowley to find the murderer but not before he kills someone dear to her who was closing in on him.------------------- Cross the forensic science of a Kay Scarpetta novel with the historical background of Judith Tarr book and the reader will have some idea of what the MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH is all about. Adelia is a great character, a female pioneer allowed to practice in the one country advanced enough to grant females that privilege. She is a plain speaker who seeks justice for the dead and has no tolerance for prejudice of any kind. She has more freedom than the average female in the Middle Ages and she knows how to use it to do what she wants. Readers will admire her and look forward to the next mystery starring this intrepid heroine.--------------- Harriet Klausner

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 17, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    CSI Meets Europe in the 13th Century!

    Mistress of the Art of Death is a delightful historical novel! Called north from the Mediterranean to solve a delicate series of child murders in the England of Henry II, the unique characters face bias directed at themselves (an educated woman is fine in Renaissance Italy, but in the more barbaric North? and she's traveling with an Italian and a Muslim!) as well as the bias directed at the Jews who were blamed for the murders!

    The case is interesting, the lead character uses alchemy and botany training to be the "CSI" on the case to 'talk to the dead' and learn their stories to solve the murders. But the true strength of the book lies in historical feel of the period, personal relationships, and the portrayal of the King - the author has truly nailed Henry II!

    This is the first in a series. I've loved the first two and am getting ready to start the third. Read Mistress of the Art of Death to escape, to visit a legitimate historical time in European history, or to follow the criminal case from beginning to end, but read it!

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 22, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Intriguing Mystery

    Besides the fact that it is hard to imagine a female doctor who studied corpses in the 1100's......I enjoyed the book. The author has a unique way of writing and often has incomplete sentence structure. I was not expecting the love story near the end since the heroine is fiercely independent and dedicated to her calling. I am interested enough in the characters to pursue book #2.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    It's the year 1170 and Henry II is on the throne. The story is rippingly suspenseful and historically enlightening.

    The king who supported his Jewish inhabitants because he could always borrow from them, receives a plea from them to investigate the grisly murder of a young Jewish boy in Cambridge, England. Henry sends for experts from the famed medical school in Salerno, Italy. At the head of the team is a Jewish healer and expert on cadavers - and a woman (!) - whose teacher insists that she go in his place to help solve the murder. And so she does, in the company of Gordinus the African and Mordecai fil Berachyah, an intermediary. Adelia must use her wits because both as a Jew and as a woman she is forbidden to touch a man. Indeed, one of her first challenges on arriving in England is to perform an operation on a priest. All the characters - evil and good, women and men - are well drawn and interesting. Glimpses of everyday medieval village, religious, and family life counterbalance the dark events. Horrifying are the continuing murders of children and the awful details of their deaths. Strong evidence suggests that the murderer might be a former Knight Templar. Especially gripping (and romantic) is the growing relationship between Adelia and Sir Rowley Picot, himself a former Knight Templar and thus a suspect. Suspense builds as Adelia rushes to rescue the latest victim at the risk of her own life. Who the madman is, is not revealed until the very end. WHEW!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 10, 2009

    What an Enjoyable Read!

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book! The author did a wonderful job of intertwining very interesting historical points with a suspenseful, mysterious plot. The characters are very well-written, and the book flows very smoothly. I can't wait to check out her other titles; I hope they're as good as this one!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    THe Mistress is a must read for anyone...

    This book has a witty plot it's a who done it, and why book. It took us through all the steps that anyone could wish for. Forbidden love, S & M, child murder. How's fault is it? A women who is traveling with a Black eunuch, and a investigator Jew. Though much of the action screams of a "B" horro movie plot, it can be over looked. This book even had the trial that is mostly always absent from other arrested murderer book. Truly a fun and good read.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    History + Mystery = Good Read

    I really enjoyed this book and the author's style of writing. Kept my interest from beginning to end. Adelia is a standout in a cast of memorable characters, and I look forward to more stories featuring them. Just enough mixture of history, mystery and romance and none of the excess detail that some writers pack their books with that can take away from the central story. Can't wait to read about Adelia's next "case."

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2008

    A good read

    Historical fiction with a twist. And whether it is realistic or not is not the issue. Other reviewers have said, this would never have happened. But this book is about 'what if it did'. This work shows historical knowledge of the times and brings a 21st century mentality to it. A great read and a page turner! If you like history and fiction-just read and enjoy without over analyzing. You won't be disappointed!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2010

    Filled with amazing characters

    This was my second go at this book, and I am not quite sure why I put it down after 10 pages the last time. Likely, I was not in the mood for death and mystery. Now I kick myself for taking so long to get to this marvelous tale.

    It seems I am in the state of reading historical fiction, without even meaning to. And once again, my lack of knowledge on our historical past is driving me bonkers. I finished Mistress of the Art of Death itching to pick up a book on the history of England and the crusades.

    Adelia, the main character, is amazingly charming, given all her anti-social characteristics, and I found mysels wishing I could sit down to dine with her. Pick her brain, befriend her, share in her isolation, come to understand how her mind ticks. I also wished to dine and befriend many of the other characters, including Mansur, Simon of Naples, the Prior, and really much of the entire cast of characters.

    The plot, the mystery, was intigruing, if not a little cliche and I wished that there were more explanation of the behavior of the murderer. Yet, I cannot wait to pick up The Serpent's Tale to bring Adelia back into my life. What may have been lacking, or cliche, in the plot was more than made up for by the characters.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 7, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

    The time is 1171 England.

    The King is Henry II.

    Problem number one is that four children have been brutally murdered and the Catholic townsfolk are blaming the Cambridge Jews.

    Problem number two is possible finanicial ruin for Henry's country. The taxes he receives from Jewish merchants helps England prosper and with the Catholic's out for blood Henry must sequester the entire Jewish population within the castle walls for their safety.

    The solution is Adelia Aguilar. Henry II calls upon his cousin the King of Sicily to send his finest "master of the art of death," the earliest form of a medical examiner to rid his country of this heinous killer.

    Adelia is a student at the University of Salerno. Highly capable, strongly independent, frustratedly stubborn, and fighting not to show any vulnerability she is thrust into a backward country where she has to hide her identity for fear of being persecuted as a "witch."

    Accompanying her is her eunoch bodyguard and a Jew from Naples. During their investigation the team meets many possible suspects and a few allies.

    This book is full of historic information. There are twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat. There are disturbing images about the manner of death these children faced. There is a touch of romance and a conclusion that will make you say "you go girl."

    If you like historical fiction, mysteries, don't mind a little romance, and your not too squeamish about murders involving children- this is the one for you.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 26, 2009

    fantastic

    This book was a great read, although it starts out a little slow the story is wonderfully written. Although the murder plot might be seen by some to be sick, it does not detract from the overall story. the murders described are no worse than those that take place in society.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 24, 2009

    Slightly slow start but fun read!

    We read this for a book club and while it was a little slow to start, I enjoyed it very much after about the first third and am looking forward to reading her next two. It took a little suspension of reality to believe some of the medical aspects, although in general it was well done and there have been many instances of knowledge being lost and then relearned so while it's stretching my limits of belief, it was not enough to dampen my enjoyment of the story.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    can't wait for more !

    I LOVED this book and have read gone on to read her other 2 (one is the next in this series). This is a series I am looking forward to !

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 7, 2014

    Great Historic Fiction!

    Great premise - new twist on mysteries and quasi-historical fiction. Found the book enthralling and well written. Would highly recommend this author and this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2013

    Enya

    Horibble

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  • Posted March 8, 2013

    Highly Recommended

    This is a book for someone who likes historical fiction and mysteries. The book draws you into 1171 and Henry II's reign, the treatment of women, especially by authorities, and the crusade. The characters are engaging, especially the protagonist, a doctor trained in Salerno!! There are excellent red herrings which draw you away from the real killer. A very good read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2013

    I've recommended this book to so many; it is at once charming, s

    I've recommended this book to so many; it is at once charming, suspenseful, historical and intelligent!

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  • Posted November 29, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I was completely unaware of how long Forensic Pathology has bee

    I was completely unaware of how long Forensic Pathology has been an active, recognized profession. Until I read this book, I thought this profession was less than 100 years old (according to Wikipedia, Forensic Pathology was recognized as a profession in the U.S. in 1959). I am always delighted to learn new things and this book informed me that there were practitioners of this discipline in the twelfth century.
    Ms. Franklin has discovered a fresh, interesting basis for a detective series in Mistress of the Art of Death. To fully enjoy this read, the reader must readily disbelieve that: 1) there were people doing autopsies when death (and pain) was part of God’s plan and to question “God’s design” was to be put to death as a heretic and 2) the world’s leading expert in this field was a woman, when women were seen as property, unless they were healers, then they were usually seen as witches and put to death. Once that threshold has been crossed, the action becomes plausible and quite the good story unfolds.
    When the children of Cambridgeshire begin to go missing, then turn up brutally killed and those being held responsible are the very wealthy (and huge tax base) Jewish community (being held captive in the King’s property), King Henry II must find who is responsible for the murders before his kingdom goes bankrupt. He requests his cousin, and King of Sicily, to send him “the finest master of the art of death” to achieve this goal. Enter Adelia, daughter of respected physicians at the University of Salerno and the best person at “talking to the dead” in the known world. Disguised as a physician’s helper (women, it was believed, were incapable of being doctors) she begins the investigation of the deaths of the children.
    The early portion of the book is slow. Introducing the characters, setting the scene, bringing the reader into the culture of 1170 England all are meticulously undertaken. Once the reader is clear “who is what, where and how,” the actual mystery takes center stage. The story is graphic in its description of the crimes (graphic enough to give me the willies) and bars no detail in making the smells, tastes and scenes of the river town of Cambridgeshire a reality. This is not a book to be read by or to children, aside from the premise of children being murdered, the specifics included of the crimes are far to horrific for many adults so are out of bounds for children. The only detractor I found in this work was the obvious 20th Century concepts that were common in the life of Adelia. The history of women was discarded to make this story and proved it to be a work of fiction, the mentioning of historical events notwithstanding.
    This is the first in a series (I possess the next two) so it will be interesting to see how Adelia fares in the ensuing mysteries England has to offer. She would like to return to Salerno, but Henry II has need for her services. It seems taxes in the Twelfth Century dictated one’s life, too. Some things never change.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2012

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  • Posted March 19, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Great historical mystery involving forensics and a female doctor

    Great historical mystery involving forensics and a female doctor, two things not very common during this time. I am looking forward to reading the other books in this series.

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