I m always looking for excellent historic fiction There s so much around and not all books are best quality.Like readers here, as I understand it, I had trouble getting into this one, not an easy read, but once I got past that barrier, it was good and getting better and better An intelligent medieval murder mystery, solid historical background, Plantagenet period Henry II , interesting Not really an easy read for me, so I had to stay focussed, which is okay, because it was good Will certainly find the sequels to this series of Adelia Aguilar, Mistress of the Art of Death.Recommended for those who like historial fiction Solid 4 stars 1171 Adelia Aguilar is a rare thing in medieval Europe, a woman who has trained as a doctor Her speciality is the study of corpses, a skill that must be concealed if she is to avoid accusations of witchcraft But in Cambridge a child has been murdered, others are disappearing, and King Henry II has called upon a renowned Italian investigator to find the killer fast What the king gets is Adelia, his very own Mistress of the Art of Death Real Rating 4.5 of fiveThe Publisher Says 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 II 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.My Review This book was a group read on LibraryThingThe Highly Rated Book Group sponsored it, with the game though gravid VintageBooks leading us through some very trenchant questions about our impressions of both the book and the world it s set inand thank goodness for that It s a lot fun to read a book in a group of like minded people, ones who read on multiple levels like our brethren and sistern here on this site.Adelia Vesuvia, our sleuth, is a forensic physician in a time when I didn t know such existed The twelfth century is a time period I find extremely fascinating I ve read a fair bit about this time, focusing on English and French history and the Crusades those horrific events Catholic Church history at this time, when the schism from Eastern Orthodoxy was new and the invention of religious primacy in matters of the state was being consolidated, is also an interest of mine This book s evocation of that time is appealing to me precisely because it s relatively new to my somewhat jaded sensibilities Salerno as the primary focus of Western medicine is a well trodden path the fact that Salernitan physicians could be women is not well trodden, and the simple IDEA of forensics in this time Irresistable pulls for me, the historian who hated school.So I was disposed from the giddy up to like the book The author s execution was the primary unknown quantity for me I am thrilled and delighted with the execution because the characters, while displaying anachronistic ideas and ideals, are quite believably constructed and supplied with plausible motivations for their divergent social attitudes I can willingly suspend my disbelief at every turn where the story requires me to do so That s very high praise from me Characterization, in a series mystery, is make or break Do I, the reader, like this group of people enough to continue inviting them out to dinner The price of a hardcover book being equivalent to the price of an entree at a tablecloth restaurant the trade paper to an entree at Applebee s or TGIFriday s the rack size to a value meal at the local McDonald s which restaurant am I willing to take these characters to The answer, while unique to each individual, is the source of the publisher s and author s income It behooves all parties to the preparation and publication of a mystery to consider this The good people at Putnam, a tentacle of the Penguin empire, have done a very very good job of making this assessment and bringing a solid, interesting cast of regulars to my table at Le Cirque.Sir Rowley, Adelia Vesuvia s English suitor, is a fine example He s three dimensional in his pursuit of her, not simply presented as out to get some one thing I think of some of the characters in Ellis Peters Brother Cadfael mysteries as contrasts to this quality of characterization We re given to understand that Sir Rowley has goals and ambitions that Adelia Vesuvia can both forward and threaten in equal measure His ultimate place in her life, and her in his, isn t a foregone conclusion Both characters are presented as struggling with what the other means to them on multiple planes That s just plain good storytelling It will keep me buying hardcovers as long as Franklin keeps doing it.The minor characters, eg Gyltha the housekeeper and Mansur the Moor, are deftly drawn as well They don t, in contrast to many series mysteries, come across as convenient mouth pieces for the author s needed plot developments cough PhryneFisher sDot cough Finally, the integration of real political developments like Henry II s move to take control of the Church s legal framework in his empire, is seamless enough to take a moment to recall as factual instead of created It s necessary to move this plot forward But it s also the historical reality Well done, madam Seldom achieved in fiction, still less the less respected genre fiction that mysteries are published as.This is a four and a half star recommended book Sally forth and procure it from yon bookery. You know what I have really missed in my life A Librarian Not a librarian, small l, but a Librarian that mystical, magical woman who watches what you read, and what you check out again and again, and who one day says to you You know what I think you d like THIS I like THIS It s a mystery, set in medieval Cambridge its heroine is a doctor, no, a coroner there s a big mystery about murdered children the Jews are being accused , and also a charming and unlikely romance to add to the fun It s not Literature, and doesn t pretend to be but I LIKE IT It s a lovely read, nicely done, and I look forward to other mysteries featuring Adelia and Rowley I m hoping for some stuff about the Black Plague I love the Plague Of course, the time frame is a couple of hundred years too early I must resign myself to disappointment I have the feeling this author is too conscientious to go down Anachronism Avenue. A medieval mystery in which Simon of Naples, a eunuch and a unique woman with the ability to decipher the wounds inflicted on bodies, race to discover the identity of a violent killer of children before he strikes again.From its opening lines, The Mistress of the Art of Death had me in its thrallHere they come From down the road we can hear harnesses jingling and see dust rising into the warm spring sky Pilgrims returning after Easter in Canterbury Tokens of the mitered, martyred Saint Thomas are pinned to cloaks and hats the Canterbury monks must be raking it in They re a pleasant interruption in the traffic of carts whose drivers and oxen are surly with fatigue from plowing and sowing These people are well fed, noisy, exultant with the grace their journey has gained them But one of them, as exuberant as the rest, is a murderer of childrenpg 1.I have been to Canterbury and viewed the spot where Thomas Becket was cut down by the knights of Henry II It is an amazing place Even so when you consider that it has been standing for so long I loved going back there, if only in a story.The Mistress of the Art of Death herself, Adelia, is a brilliant and headstrong heroine She embodies what I imagine women to have been in the time before we were allowed the same privileges as menShe sighed with impatience I see you are regretting that the woman, like the doctor, is unadorned It always happens She glared at him Turn over that stone she pointed to a flint nearby and you will find a charlatan who will dazzle you with the favorable conjunction of Mercury and Venus, flatter your future, and sell you colored water for a gold piece I can t be bothered with it From me you get the actuality He was taken aback Here was the confidence, even arrogance, of a skilled artisanpg 52.The reality that Adelia has been taught to see is not pretty She learns all about the horrors that mankind inflicts on one another through her schooling It has hardened her, but she seeks, beyond all else, to give voice and justice to the murderedMan hovers between Paradise and the Pit Sometimes rising to one, sometimes swooping to the other To ignore his capacity for evil is as obtuse as blinding oneself to the heights to which he can soarpg 77.And yet, Adelia is still sassy I loved her attitudeHe found her modest a description, Adelia had long decided, that was applied to women who gave men no troublepg 88 Though this novel could have dragged the reader through the stultifying reality of medieval attitudes and prejudices, instead Ariana Franklin takes us on a sparkling adventure filled with just enough detail to give the flavor of the time.Recommended for those who like mysteries, historical fiction, strong heroines and perhaps some romance on the side The Mistress of the Art of Death, though it touches on dark themes, was a welcome respite for me from a world that so often shows its shadows I hope that it is an escape for you too. I am a historical mystery geek, sometimes I ll go on a tear and read a whole series in a row, like the Peabody mysteries or Lindsay Davis Rome mysteries, so I picked up this book after reading great reviews I was not disappointed Very interesting setting, mainly compelling because of the main character,a medieval woman doctor Felt well researched, a serial killer thriller set long ago in a fascinating world Leans a bit too much in the womanly direction sometimes I felt the romance was a bit shoehorned in but DEFINITELY will be downloading the next one to my Kindle. Start with Chaucer s Canterbury Tales Throw in a cameo of a calculating and brash King Henry II straight from The Lion in Winter Add some medieval mystery on par with Umberto Eco s groundbreaking The Name of the Rose And finish it off with the forensics of CSI , and you ll have some appreciation for Ariana Franklin s remarkable achievement in Mistress of the Art of Death , a fresh and inspired twist of historical fiction and crime thriller, a blockbuster of murder and mayhem told through lively, darkly humorous prose that is as educational as it is entertaining.The setting is 12th century England King Henry II, still smarting from the Church s reaction to the murder of archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket, is anxious to get to the bottom of the grisly murders of four children in Cambridge The Cambridge townspeople, steeped in superstition and New Testament legend, blame the murders on the local Jewish population, who are banished to Cambridge Castle for protection against a mob bent on retribution The wily Henry, coming to the Jews defense not from love but for the sake of continued tax revenue from his affluent moneylenders, reaches out for help from his cousin, the King of Sicily, and Italy s renowned medical school in Salerno In response to this request, Adelia, a talented young female doctor in the art of death essentially the forensics of the time is sent to assist In a time when women barely rate above stable animals and medical treatment is limited by an overwhelmingly powerful to relics and prayer, Adelia faces not only the formidable task of tracking down a serial killer who is obviously still on the loose, but also overcoming ignorance and prejudice in cracking a case of unthinkable evil Notwithstanding some anachronisms some noted and others ignored Franklin delivers her tale with the historical authority of Edward Rutherford or Bernard Cornwell, while told in dialogue as engaging as Grisham, Forsythe, or Follett at the tops of their games I found myself glued to the top notch whodunit , while at the same time captivated by the vivid period detail and political intrigue of the time.If this is not the best new fiction of 2007, it is certainly among the most original as it takes than a few unsuspected twists in getting to a climax that is as insightful, ironic, and intelligent as it is white knuckled Well done, Ms Franklin Ariana Franklin , bell. 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 II 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 I was quite captivated by this book As a medieval scholar, I had some initial doubts I d like it because I am often disappointed by books that feature 20th 21st century concerns and situations in a medieval setting investigating mysteries, forensic science, in this case All too often, the authors don t get the historical elements right, and the story ends up being too anachronistic.Ariana Franklin, however, knows her medieval history The story is a page turner as well, and the world Franklin describes is richly and accurately drawn, and manages to dispel many of the myths about medieval life that too many people have In that respect, this book is a gem, although I do think there will be those readers who will think it s not really accurate because they haven t done enough real research about the real medieval times.I love the main character she is a no nonsense, outspoken, and educated intelligent woman who nevertheless understands all too well the obstacles women of her time had to face and knows how and when to pick her battles.For those who believe this book is anachronistic and inauthentic, I d like to add the following It s plausible than most people realize Salerno WAS well known for its medical training of women as well as many foreigners, including Arabs and Africans, Muslim and otherwise , and the medical training was far ahead of the rest of Europe so the medical elements in the novel were accurate There was a famous female physician about a century before this story is set, named Trotula, who wrote two medical books about the diseases of women and their treatments that were used by male medics physicians in order to treat their female patients efficiently Trotula even occupied the chair of medicine at the medical School of Salerno Here s a link to a web page about Trotula did her research on Salerno and women physicians, and Adelia is based loosely on women like Trotula Actually, in 12th century England, under Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, although in no way friendly to women by our standards, women did have relative freedom legally and socially than they would by the mid 1200s, when the Church became oppressive toward women s education and then secular laws followed suit In the 11th and 12th centuries, especially in England and Northern France, women who chose the religious life as well as many women of noble and royal lineage had access to a fairly well rounded education Eleanor of Aquitaine in England had a great hand in that Just thought I d add my.02 worth about this book which I gave 5 stars to BECAUSE it was NOT as historically anachronistic as other medieval mystery thrillers tend to be I look forward to reading the second in the series. In coming to the decision to purchase this book, Mistress of the Art of Death, I did my background research first I visited a fair few blogs that had reviewed the book, and found that the reviews were so entirely positive that I couldn t wait to get my grubby paws on the book myself The bloggers were not wrong thank the gods This novel is a gloriously delicious read.Set in the Middle Ages as a medieval mystery, our protagonist has been asked to travel to Cambridge United Kingdom from the Middle East, to research the mystery behind a group of local children who have been tortured to death and mutilated in a similar manner to one another Short in stature, Dr Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar of Salerno is a strange and unlikely heroine, and a Doctor of the Dead, meaning she is a medically qualified examiner of dead bodies Fiesty and scientifically minded, Dr Aguilar has little other choice than to work undercover, considering this is medieval England where female doctors are few and far between because of society s view of women Add to this the fact that she can apparently derive messages from the bodies of the dead and Dr Aguilar s the perfect candidate to be accused of witchcraft and set to burning And so, under the wing of her valiant protector and old friend Simon of Naples, Dr Aguilar acts as the servant assistant to her own Arab slave, Mansur, who plays the role of Doctor to all external prying eyes.As a particularly valuable doctor s assistant, our headstrong protagonist struggles with the case of the mutilated kidlets on both a personal and professional level, and her search for the killer becomes and desperate, as further children are picked off by an unknown murderous beast But could the animal be closer than she thinks I read this book in one sitting That in itself should alert you to how much I enjoyed this read, considering I have the attention span of a gnat when the book waives from awesomeness for longer than a few pages And the book is 507 pages long So, I think you ll agree no mean feat.The reason it s such a robust dish of perverse playfulness, I believe, boils down to the expert writing It s a perfect balance of detail and sparseness, and makes you forget that this medieval period could have been a bit boring for the casual reader of history That s if anyone less expert had written this book In fact, the style reminds me a bit of another little masterpiece, Ken Follett s The Pillars of the Earth little Hah , although Mistress of the Art of Death is less focused on lifetimes and focused on moments It s what makes a fast paced story, I guess If you like the sound of Geoffrey Chaucer s Canterbury Tales with a splash of The Da Vinci Code then this book is for you.Besides being a cracker of a crime thriller, Mistress of the Art of Death is an intensely satisfying historical read too There are so many paths this book could explore further the persistence of a little disease called cholera , Jewish Islamic Christian fireworks, gallant knights returning from crusade, scientific enlightenment intruding on religious fervour, corrupt and ignorant priors and prioressesthe list is extensive YES, I will admit there are some historical follies rather than facts, but I promise you the story s entertainment will have the most uptight historian turning a blind eye to its mistakes And as it s set in the period when mighty Plantaganet Henry II was occupying the throne, the author puts a fascinatingly rare and positive spin on the reign of a king who has only been known to history for commanding the murder of Thomas Becket, the then Archbishop of Canterbury.If you really want though, you can go barging past all this historical nonsense , and there s still a bloody good read to be found under the rubble As for characterisation, Dr Aguilar herself is amazing I don t quite understand, being a hopeless romantic myself, why I am drawn to this woman who has no time for love and little time to be emotionally swayed by the horror of the children s tortured bodies She is so far beyond the submissive sterotype of a Middle Eastern woman it seems to make perfect sense to put her into a doctor s role in the middle of the 12th century She is fighting against prejudices that not even modern time can necessarily remedy, but of course as it is with the most admirable women of sense, strength and integrity guard inner empathy and vulnerable hope And yes, for all the romanciphiles out there there re a few heated moments for your imagination to enjoy.For true lovers of crime fiction, some of the twists aren t all that surprising, but it ll still keep you entertained for long enough to see if you figured out the clues correctly If you re not into crime fiction this doubles as a fantastic historical fiction novel as well just don t take it too seriously If you re a fan of neither genre, I still challenge you not to enjoy this book.Yep, I gobbled this book up, and then licked each of my fingers afterwards It s that good.Rating 5 perfectly scrumptious stars for Mistress of the Art of Death.