My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Someone is killing and mutilating children in Cambridge, and the populace is blaming -who else – the Jews. King Henry II requests assistance from the University of Salerno, renowned for its advanced medical research. Thus Adelia Aguilar, a brilliant “doctor of the dead”, journeys to England. Because she’s not a man and Cambridge is not Salerno, her body guard must pose as the physician, with Adelia as his aide. Sick at heart over the little corpses, she vows to bring their vicious murderer to justice.
Mistress of the Art of Death opens as Adelia approaches Cambridge among a band of homeward bound Canterbury pilgrims, introducing as colorful a cast of characters as you could ever hope to meet. I was hooked from page one, following the spirited narrative over the course of a few late evenings. The sights, smells, customs, joys, and cruelties of medieval society provide the vivid background against which the murder investigation unfolds. Knights, nuns, priors, crusaders, common folk, and a particularly feisty housekeeper surround Adelia, who is a strong, opinionated, and compassionate protagonist. The depravities of this murderer rival those of any modern serial killer. Sick at heart over the little corpses, she vows to bring their vicious murderer to justice.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of this book is its treatment of England and Aquitaine’s King Henry II. Generally vilified as the man who got what he wished for with the murder of Thomas Becket, author Franklin effectively uses the situation to justify Henry’s position in his argument with Becket and the Church, which enabled him to lay the foundation for English Common Law and trial by jury, for all his subjects, including clergy. He also extended civil protections to his Jewish subjects.
Independent, brilliant, and dedicated, Adelia Aguilar may be a woman ahead of her time, but so was Henry’s wife Eleanor. I’ve ordered the next two titles in this series and can’t wait to become immersed in them.