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Mistress of the Art of Death
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Product Description

"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 . ."

Customer Reviews:

  • If you feel this way, write an autobiography...
    Should I review this novel or not, I wonder? I didn't read nearly all of it, enjoyed the first few pages, got quickly exasperated, skimmed for a bit, jumped ahead a hundred pages or so at a bound, finally skipped to the end--ah, there's the solution. There seems some utility to chronicling why I wasn't inclined to read the book from cover to cover, though. I've no quarrel with the storytelling or linguistic powers of the author. Far from it. She can write, and from what I could tell, the plot was gripping.

    No, it's that this story is about the medieval time period, and that all the blurbs and puffs and teasers promised accuracy of period detail. The external period detail of the story was solid, it seemed to me, although I wouldn't be able to correct the author on diet. She cares about getting the place names right, and bases some of the plot points on actual events. But the internal makeup of the characters seems all wrong for the medieval period. The story is filtered through the sensibility of a character who is for all practical purposes modern in her ethics and in her high, almost exclusive, valuation of science. We had to go pretty far to find her, too--all the way to Sicily, & drag her back to 12th-century England, where she wasn't. In nearly every case I found where the medieval period clashes with a kind of proto-modern sensibility or value system, the medieval period is either exoticised, compared unfavourably, or both. Why tell a medieval story if you want to diminish it in favour of the modern, I wonder? To give modern values a slap on the back, to make them feel better? It all feels irresponsibly self-congratulatory. As a period piece, Mistress of the Arts of Death is disingenuous: a medieval fa?ade over an uninterestingly unoriginal modern heart.

    Perhaps I'm all wrong--I'd love to be corrected. But I can only plead with the author to convince me much sooner in the book that I'm wrong. I don't have time to read two hundred pages into a book to figure out if it is worthwhile, if it treats its subject matter responsibly and charitably.
    ...more info
  • Fabulous audio book
    Just love this audio book. It's a tale from the Middle Ages of a young woman from Salerno versed in autopsies, being sent by the King of Sicily to help King Henry II discover who is killing children in Cambridge, England. The Jews are being blamed and, with the Jews in Cambridge incarcerated, the wealth that normally poured into Henry coffers has been seriously compromised. So Adelia comes to Cambridge with two male (one a Jew and the other a eunuch Arab) companions and has to deal not only with being a woman (women have no status and are considered non-people)but also a doctor (people are very superstitious and doctors are sometimes considered witches--the church condemns anything that helps with pain and healing, saying that pain comes from God). Fascinating account of how she copes and triumphs. I have listened to the CDs many times since buying them and enjoy them immensely each time....more info
  • Great Audio Book
    I have listened to quite a few books on CD. Usually, the narrator reads the story. The woman chosen for Mistress, however, is a famous London stage actress. Each character has his own voice, dialect, accent, delivery. You forget that only one woman is reading the book. It's truly great and all the wit of Franklin comes out so much better for it....more info
  • Compelling!
    I was enthralled by this book. I pretty much sat down and read it within a day. I found the medieval setting fascinating, the characters sympathetic, complicated and interesting and...best of all...the author managed to surprise me several times! (It is wonderful not to be able to guess what is going to happen about 50 pages in.) I really enjoyed this book and am now going to rush out and get my hands on the next one.

    If you like Diana Gabaldon's books, I think you might enjoy this one as well. Very different, of course, but similar too. ...more info
  • Totally unique and almost unexpectedly entertaining!
    This book was the most unique and interesting book I'd read in a long time. I didn't expect it to be so entertaining and fun! The subject matter - a death master trying to solve the gruesome murders of young children - was heavy, but the way it is written and the way the character, Adelia, grows and changes in totally unexpected ways, makes you not want the story to end, even when the killer is exposed. The writer really puts you in that period of time, too (the 12th century). I'm thrilled to see that another Adelia book is coming out and I cannot wait to read it! ...more info
  • Not So Much
    Yes, the characters are complex. However, I must not have read the same book that everyone else did. At times the story moved at a lethargic pace that left me wondering if this were just a vignette of life without meaning. At other times, the story moved so quickly, that unless you remembered one insignificant line from pages past, you were likely to lose the storyline completely. The last chapters of the book are worth reading... Until you arrive at the conclusion. The voice of the storyteller suddenly changes and one is left with a not so vague feeling of "where did this come from?"

    Did I like the book - "Not So Much"...more info
  • Beach Read
    Enjoyable but not if you're looking for realistic prose. I felt like I was floating between ancient times and the current era. The words and meaning were definitely out of the 21st Century. How did the Editors miss that? The story is good enough but geesh....more info
  • A riveting medieval thriller
    This book takes the familiar: a murder mystery with a forensic pathologist as hero, and puts it in a most unlikely setting: England in 1171 AD. The accused are the Jews of Cambridge and their would-be rescuer is a female doctor trained in Sicily who is ordered to England by the King of Sicily to look into the situation. A less propitious situation can hardly be imagined. This is an age and place where women who practice medicine are frequently regarded as witches, in which Jews hang on to their place in society by a thread and at a time when the autopsy is considered heretical by the church.

    It makes for thought-provoking and compelling reading. Ariana Franklin, whose previous book, City of Shadows, a Novel of Suspense, was carefully researched and beautifully presented, has managed the same trick again, but with a completely different era and locale (her first book was set in Berlin in the 1920s). The characters are likeable and surprisingly human, given the uncompromising character of the times. The heroine, Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, is one to remember. And there are signs, near the end of the book, that this might be the beginning of a series. I hope so, because I want more from Ariana Franklin. Enjoy!
    ...more info
  • Why do you people like this drivel?
    This book is horrible. Read the other reviews rating this book poorly and you'll see why. They describe it accurately; Sentence structure is bizarre, characters do and say things they wouldn't and characters are stupid. Just like her book City Of Shadows (Also Very Bad for the same reasons) she seemed to have thought up a great (fairy tale-ish, sappy and unbelievavle) ending and then wrote a bunch of junk to get there. Not worth the trouble....more info
  • 12th Century England
    Mistress of the Art of Death
    by Ariana Franklin

    England's King Henry II, needing experts to investigate the vicious deaths of four children in Cambridge, appeals to his cousin, the King of Sicily, to help solve the crimes. The local Jews have been accused of the murders, and Henry, needing the taxes he receives from Jewish merchants, wants them protected.

    Chosen for the task are three from Southern Italy sent undercover as pilgrims - Adelia, a medically trained doctor, Simon, a brilliant Jewish investigator, and Mansur, a Muslim eunuch serving as Adelia's protector. Women were allowed to practice in the Medical School of Salerno, Italy, and Adelia has been taught to help solve crimes by studying the bodies of the victims - thus the book's title "Mistress of the Art of Death."

    This is an exciting read by an author with terrific writings skills. Adelia and Simon's investigations bring them into dangers at evey turn as they try to track down a devilish murderer. Romance in the form of the king's tax collector, the ex-Crusader Sir Rowley Picot, add to Adelia's stress as she worries about how marriage would thwart the use of her very special skills and, as important, her curious mind.

    The book offers well researched period details not only about twelfth century England, but about the much more cosmopolitan city of Salerno and way of life of the crusaders in Outremer. The tenuous position of Jews in medieval society and Henry II's struggles with the Church over the Thomas ? Beckett affair are featured, as are the multiple restrictions placed on medieval women. And yet, Adelia's sensibilities and liberal views on topics such as death, peace, marriage, and religion, just to name a few, seem out of place for a young woman of the twelfth century. The characters' verbal exchanges also contain references and expressions clearly directed at the modern audience.

    Contains a useful author's note about the story's true and fictional information. Note particularly Franklin's rebuttal to the harsh judgment history has made of Henry II....more info
  • Fantastic fiction
    Ariana Franklin (the pseudonym of a popular historical fiction writer) has crafted a fascinating, page turner of a thriller with Mistress Of The Art Of Death.

    One of the 'praise' blurbs on the back of the book sums up the plot of the book quite succinctly by calling it 'CSI meets The Canterbury Tales'....twelfth century doctor Adelia Aguilar is sent to Cambridge to try to unravel a series of child-killings that are taking place near the city. But Adelia has more than just the challenge of examining the crime and perhaps one of the children. Being a female doctor in that time was all but unheard of, and Adelia must cover her profession by pretending to be simply a doctor's assistant to one of the men she travels with.

    With 90 other reviews here to read from, I won't repeat the rest of the plot outline of the book again. The strengths of this book are:

    1. The author paid great attention to period detail, and shows a great love for the time period she wrote in.

    2. Characters are well-drawn and thought out...making a reader care about nearly every one of them.

    3. There is just the right amount of 'red herrings' thrown in to keep you guessing as to the identity of the killer.

    4. The twists and turns are well paced to keep interest, and are believable.

    Knowing that this is the first of three (so far) 'Mistress' novels, I eagerly anticipate reading the other two. A wonderful story by a talented author.
    ...more info
  • An Unlikely Page-Turner
    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 more 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!
    ...more info
  • Historical Intrigue With Little Mystery.
    Ariana Franklin (a pseudonymn) starts off her Adelia Aguilar mystery series with "Mistress Of the Art Of Death".

    Taking place in 12th Century Britain, we find ourselves thrust into a dark period of history filled with religious intolerance. Described as "CSI meets the Cantebury Tales", Adleia is the expert medical practitioner specializing in determining cause of death and her expertise is now being used in the case of three children who were crucified to death.

    While being very interesting and full of historical references, this tale has little to no mystery about it (I found the killer to be quite obvious) and there is hardly any tension. It is a good story on its own merit and worthy of a read. I only hope the suceeding books in this series have a little more thrill to them....more info
  • Very entertaining read (3.5 stars)
    One of the pleasures of Amazon is the reader review. Much like letters to the editor they are written by folks who feel the need to share their opinions about a wide variety of products, books, music, and such. It does bother me sometimes that some of those who write are seemingly angered by those who disagree with their opinions. We are writing about entertainment, after all.

    This book hooked me in so firmly that I read it in one night, making work the next day a little difficult. Everyone knows people who cannot watch a film or enjoy a book that requires suspension of disbelief. I have a friend who drives me crazy during films with comments like, "That couldn't happen." The very "anachronisms" which so irritate a few made this story more entertaining to me. Regardless of historical accuracy, almost all of the "liberties" taken by the author were within the realm of scientific possibility. I am a criminal prosecutor, and I assure you that much of what passes for "science" on CSI, for example, is so exaggerated it approaches fiction.

    I found the characters compelling, the story suspenseful and believable, and the protagonist, if unlikely, still comfortably a part of the historical time in which she lives. It is not literature, but it is good solid writing. Bottom line is that I was highly entertained, and if you like somewhat dark suspense thrillers by authors such as Dennis Lehane, Patricia Cornwell, or James Lee Burke, you probably will be as well. ...more info
  • Thrilling tale of medieval murder and medicine
    This terrific novel has everything - adventure, gore, an exotic setting best experienced from an armchair, wit, political acumen, religious mania and romance. True, the romance is a bit weak. In a story that skates dangerously close to clich¨¦, the romance is the only aspect to actually fall. Still, poor Adelia deserves a bit of love and readers will not begrudge her.

    Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar of Salerno is a 12th century pathologist, come to England in 1171 at the behest of Henry II to help solve a series of child murders in Cambridge. Henry did not actually ask for Adelia; he asked his cousin, the King of Sicily, for a "master in the art of death," from the prestigious University of Salerno.

    Nor does Henry care particularly about the murders of some peasant children, but the situation poses a threat to his treasury. The village's Jews are being blamed for the murders and the Church would like to seize this opportunity to force Henry to cast the Jews out of England. Henry is no savior to the Jews, but they are responsible for a large portion of his taxes.

    Because Henry's knights have just murdered Thomas a Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry is more vulnerable than usual to the demands of the Church. It would be greatly to his benefit to determine that the killing of Christian children was not a Jewish plot.

    Accompanied by her manservant, the Moor and eunuch Mansur, and the wise Jew Simon, Adelia travels on the back of a humble wagon, approaching Cambridge at the rear of a pilgrims' procession. Our first sight of her is unprepossessing, with a glimpse of the author's wry humor.

    "And sitting on the tailboard, beskirted legs dangling like a peasant, a woman. She's looking about her with a furious interest. Her eyes regard a tree, a patch of grass, with interrogation: What's your name? What are you good for? If not, why not? Like a magister in court. Or an idiot."

    But Adelia proves her worth that very night as she performs a near-miraculous cure on the Cambridge abbot - in secrecy, of course, since she runs the risk of being branded a witch.

    The bodies of three of the victims (missing until then) turn up the next morning. Adelia's examination strongly indicates that the killer was among the traveling pilgrims, conveniently narrowing the field.

    Adelia's forensic acumen is entirely believable, as are the strictures under which she labors, at a time when a woman walking alone was, as the saying goes, "asking for it."

    The lively, colorful writing will transport you to the muddy, chill, lice-infested setting, seething with superstition and hysteria, in which a cult of healing and sanctity has already sprung up around the first murdered child. Franklin seamlessly incorporates the politics and attitudes of the time into the story and her character development is vivid and real.

    The supporting cast includes an observant, if disregarded urchin, and a particularly smelly and faithful dog, the practical prior and his nemesis the pious prioress, whose love of hunting is matched only by her mercenary zeal in promoting the new child saint.

    Others may be friend or fiend: the sly tax collector, the raving religious zealot, and the newly rich knights home from the crusades - one gallant and the other glowering.

    Any one of these could devolve into caricature, but Franklin's deft pen keeps them fresh as the perils and suspense mount.

    This is a thoroughly rewarding novel from the pseudonymous author of "City of Shadows," who has written numerous books of historical fiction and fact under her real name, Diana Norman. ...more info
  • REALLY GOOD BOOK
    This is the second copy I have bought for friends who love to read. Not only is it a ripping good mystery, but the awesome research that has gon into re-creating the era is truly amazing.YOU'LL LOVE IT!...more info
  • Yes, it's good forensics, but...
    Doesn't anyone know history any more? Spanish Jews with sidelocks speaking Yiddish (not Arabic)? Um, the Hasidim lived in Poland, and I don't think they were styling their hair that way or even a religious movement quite as early as the 1100s...

    A sign posted on the convent door listing the local motels? Who could read besides the occasional priest? And not *all* priests could read, either, or knew more Latin than what was in the Eucharistic ceremony (many of them just garbled the liturgy). Thatcher's children actually attending school?

    Every anachronism made me flinch, and I have twitched a lot while reading this book. I usually give up on such books after a couple of chapters (like "Da Vinci Code" --awful book), but the CSI aspects are keeping me going. I'm at page 145, but I might give up yet.

    For a writer who is supposed to be so experienced (and published), she could have taken more care to be more accurate....more info
  • A thriller on the Canterbury pilgrammages...
    The year: 1171. The place: England, or, more specifically, the road between Canterbury and Cambridge, as a party of pilgrims travels home from visiting the newly sainted (and recently murdered) Thomas a Becket's shrine. The setting for Chaucer's Canterbury Tales? Perhaps. But it's also the backdrop for the opening of Ariana Franklin's superb new thriller, MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH.

    If you've read Chaucer's tales, you know that pilgrims weren't necessarily the pious types you might expect. Far from it, in fact. And so it is among Franklin's pilgrims, although in this case, the extent of the impiety goes far deeper. For among the assembled pilgrims is a truly monstrous killer, a murderer of children.

    Also among the company, riding humbly in a cart, are a Jewish detective, a Muslim eunuch bodyguard and a doctor. This may sound like the set-up for a joke, but the work of these three companions is deadly serious. They come from Italy at the order of the King of England, Henry II, in order to investigate a series of child murders in Cambridge, which the locals are blaming on the town's Jews. Henry has his own reasons for wanting the Jews exonerated, and so he has sent to Italy for their best "Master of the Art of Death," a specialized doctor who can "read corpses." Something like today's forensic scientists, these specialists, trained at the medical school in liberal Salerno, can find clues as to how --- and sometimes by whose hand --- victims were killed.

    What Henry doesn't know, however, is that the "master" in this case is actually a "mistress," a young woman named Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, an accomplished doctor and the most celebrated post-mortem analyst in Salerno. No wonder she has been sent on this dark mission, accompanying Simon of Naples, a Jewish investigator, to determine the cause of death of four children. Before her work in Cambridge is done, though, Adelia will become far more intimately involved with the case than she had ever dared to imagine. During her stay in Cambridge, she will lose a dear friend and gain the love of her life --- sort of.

    Although MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH is the first thriller featuring Adelia, its author is far from a novice; Ariana Franklin is the pen name of British author Diana Norman, a former journalist, biographer and historical novelist. Franklin also happens to be a dedicated medieval history buff, and it shows. This thriller, in addition to being skillfully plotted, is also meticulously researched, giving readers bold new insights into cultural practices, political intrigues and medical knowledge of the day.

    Readers, for example, may be surprised to learn that a female doctor such as Adelia is a completely conceivable historical character --- at least in Italy. Adelia, raised by a pair of doctors and surrounded by compassionate people of all faiths, is shocked and horrified by the ignorance, prejudice and small-mindedness she encounters in England.

    Here she could be executed as a witch for practicing medicine; here the Jews, even the wealthy ones, are ghettoized and hanged or marched off to prison en masse at the first sign of trouble. Franklin's depiction of Adelia's cross-cultural friendships, as well as her discussion of the recent Crusades and their long-lasting effect on Christian-Islamic relations, seems intended not only to shed light on history but also to point a finger at more current political issues.

    This is not to say, though, that MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH is a dry historical tome. Far from it. In addition to bringing history vividly alive, Franklin crafts a top-notch plot, with twists that will continue to surprise readers to the very last page. Gory enough to gratify any Patricia Cornwell fan, detailed enough to satisfy medievalists and filled with a dozen or more well-realized supporting characters, Franklin's accomplished thriller crafts a 12th-century world that 21st-century readers will be eager to inhabit again.

    --- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
    ...more info
  • Interesting period mystery
    I liked the fact that the main character is a female forensic scientist from the middle ages. BUT, be forwarned the villian in this story is sexually torturing and murdering small children, and there were sections I found sickening. Hence the low star rating....more info
  • A jewel of a book
    This book is a true find for jaded readers of thrillers, medieval romances and detective stories. Ariana Franklin delivers a fascinating mystery tale set in 12th century Cambridge peppered with humor, period detail and sparkling characters.

    The premise--the investigation of a serial child-killer hiding among a group of pilgrims returning from the shrine of the newly sainted Thomas a Becket, by the Salerno trained forensic doctor sent for by Henry II--develops credibly within the context of 12th century society. Ms. Franklin tells her story from different points of view, giving the reader a real sense of tensions between Saxons and Normans, East and West, Gentiles and Jews, church and state and within the church itself, as the characters struggle to understand each other and the facts in the case.

    The main characters are well-defined and downright enchanting, the plot full of twists, and the resolution appropriate. The trial scene is one of the most gripping suspect confrontations I've ever read and has an outcome both chilling and satisfying. After one gets used to it, the language is accessible with hints of Norman and Middle English and the tongue in cheek elements lighten what could have been a very dark tale.

    I hope for the return of the "team" through the door that's been left open.

    ...more info
  • Artfully written
    Mistress of the Art of Death is a historical thriller which pulled me in and kept me up late reading. The setting is gruesome. The main characters are on the trail of a serial child murderer, and this aspect of the story is not for the faint of heart. It is these same characters however who drive the story. The mistress of the art of death is Adelia, who is essentially a medieval coroner. She is a fish out of water when she arrives in England, where women just don't do the things or act the way that Adelia typically does. How she manages to adapt and to do her job in this setting is what kept me reading. She is clearly the star of the story, but the supporting characters are no less intriguing. The writing is superb and the descriptions of the times fascinating. The plot features many twists and like any good story finishes with a satisfying conclusion. This is the only book by this author which I have read. I'll be reading more written by her in the future....more info
  • enjoyable historical fiction
    I enjoyed this book, and have recommended & given it to others. I cannot vouch for the historic, or scientific, accuracy, but it seems to have been carefully researched; it explores an interesting time, from an unorthodox perspective.

    The central character is fascinating and compelling, if not entirely credible. The supporting cast of eccentrics are also appealing, if broadly drawn.
    ...more info
  • 3 women in my family loved this book
    My 18 year old niece loved this book so much she lent it to her mother. My sister loved it so much she lent to me. I love it so much they ain't getting it back.That's ok I am buying Serpents Tale and I always get my books back. In my life time this generational round robin thing has only happened once before. When my mother was alive we passed it to her as well. Yes,it was Harry Potter. ...more info
  • A really enjoyable book
    I was turned off by some of the comments shown on the back of the book. The idea of a medieval CSI character really doesn't interest me. The Historical Dagger Award was what convinced me to give this book a chance and I am glad for it.
    The characters are likeable and there is a sound plot that will grab on and hold your attention. This read contains the harshness of the medieval period so beware.
    Easy to recommend this book.
    ...more info
  • Perfect medieval murder mystery
    Many good reviews here summarize the story, so I will only add that this was a great read. The historical detail adds to the richness of the story without slowing down a good mystery and a fun romance. After reading this one I was hooked and I've now read five other books by this author. Highly recommended....more info
  • The title is better than the book
    A book with a title such as this one, about a female doctor from Salerno solving mysteries in Britain during the reign of Henry II, certainly tantalizes the imagination. I didn't think it could fail to entertain.

    And yet it did. The plot, by turns a history lesson and a mysterious reveal, was erratic and short of compelling. Adelia, the doctor/sleuth masquerading as a the doctor's helper, suspects everyone and her internal dialogue cues the reader to plot developments that consistently fall short of their promise.

    I read this book on a plane, and usually, anything to read is better than nothing. Yet time after time, I drowsed off--the narrative would capture my interest momentarily and then meander off on some obscure tangent about primitive medical science or geographic analysis of chalk. (This book mentions chalk more than an essay on the art of teaching with a chalkboard). Despite my good intentions, Ariana Franklin's tale failed to keep my attention. Many of the characters and events seemed to serve as opportunities for Franklin to dazzle us with her historical knowledge or attention to medieval medical detail, rather than to create a tight, well-crafted mystery tale.

    Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the 'reveal', where our heroine catches the bad guy. The scene itself, told in an odd combination of clinical and unnecessarily graphic brush strokes, offends without terrifying.

    Save your time and money....more info
  • A Great Story
    I had read good reviews of this novel, and since I enjoy most historical fiction set in England, I was anxious to read it. This novel is set in the time of Henry II, and Christian children are being murdered. Henry sends for Adelia, a forerunner to our CSI of today, and her mind is brilliant. Franklin has created a fascinating lead character, along with well-developed secondary characters, and the intricate plot held many surprises. When Adelia was featured again in The Serpent's Tale, I immediately pre-ordered it and enjoyed it just as much. I hope Adelia will appear again soon with another mystery to solve. ...more info
  • Unique
    Great plot and interesting characters. Very different and great period in history.
    Highly recommended...more info
  • 12th Century CSI
    I really enjoyed this book. Historical fiction is among my favorite genres of fiction and I enjoy a good murder mystery as well, so the two melded together made for interesting reading.

    The plot has already been discussed, so no need for me to go into that.

    I found the character of Adelia to be very interesting. Never before have I read a book set in this particular time period about what amounts to be a female medical examiner. That's what makes the book so interesting. Adelia using her sharp mind and what 'technology' was available to her nearly 800 years ago to have the dead speak to her.

    In fact, all of the characters in the book were fun to read, each with his or own distinct personality.

    Everything that makes for good mystery and drama is in this book: a powerful yet imperfect protagonist, a good supporting cast, a barbaric perpetrator of ghoulish crimes and a very unlikely romance, although it doesn't take long to figure out that it's going to happen.

    I just noticed that there's a second book in the series so I have that marked down to read in the upcomming weeks. That's the mark of a good book. When you want to read the further adventures of the characters. If the author can hook the reader like that for more than one book, it's more likely to be a great read and Ariana Franklin has succeeded.

    The only reason this book didn't get a 5 out of 5 was the very thick old english that was used by many of the local residents. While authenticity was the main focus there, I found it to bog down the pace a little and took me out of the moment.

    Highly recommended!...more info
  • CSI: Medieval England
    Mistress of the Art of Death is a gripping story of a serial murderer in Medieval England. Think CSI meets Kay Scarpetta during the crusades.

    Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar is the mistress of the art of death; an early day forensic scientist. Educated by her father at the medical school in Salerno Adelia is sent by the King of Sicily to aid his cousin Henry II in finding out who is killing the children of Cambridge. Along with Simon of Naples, a "spy" and Mansur, an Arab eunuch who acts as her bodyguard, it's their job to find a murderer before he kills again.

    Using real life characters along with fictional ones and telling a very intricate mystery with humor and including a turbulent romance, the author has written a very enjoyable story, with a great deal of historical information on early forensics and medieval life in general. Although some of the sensibilities of the characters seemed out of place considering the time frame I am willing to overlook that for the pleasure of a well written tale.
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  • A terrific read!
    There don't seem to be enough strong female characters these days, and to imagine a strong female character back in Henry II's England and make her an expert 'doctor to the dead' was just genius.
    The other characters are well fleshed out and interesting; many of them keep you guessing since folks are rarely all good or all bad.
    Not for the squeamish, the descriptions of life in those times as dirty, dangerous and filled with superstitions are riveting and fascinating. A gripping suspense and a satisfying conclusion witout resorting to a 'hollywood' happy ending. Glad to highly recommend it....more info
  • Didn't care for it
    This happens to be one of the few books I have not been able to finish. I can't speak for the historical accuracy of the book, but I just couldn't relate to the protagonist. The book, in my opinion (perhaps only my opinion), seems to take a rather negative look at people in twelfth century Europe. I suppose, looking back at something from eight or nine centuries on, this will tend to happen, but I feel the attitude of the book is somewhat unnecessary. I feel the protagonist is too modern in thought and this, added to the character's abrupt, even rude demeanor, turns me off of the book completely.

    It is well written, and if the issues I have with the book don't offend you, pick it up.
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  • Not my Favorite...
    Mistress of the Art of Death has been a challenge for me. For a while I had the dictionary close at hand and discovered all those words that were unfamiliar were olde English. Since the book is set in 12th century England, that's not surprising! However, it has made reading the book difficult and not as enjoyable as I had hoped. The plot has sustained my interest, and the writing is very descriptive. ...more info
  • CSI: Medieval
    All the way through this book, I felt like I was watching an extended episode of CSI set in miedieval England. Just like the shows, the book wasn't realistic and some of the characters and clues were contrived.

    Still, there were some definite good points. The mystery didn't get buried in the romantic sub-plot. King Henry was a fantasticly portrayed character. And if you're just looking for some good escapist reading where you don't already know the who the bad guy is by the second chapter, this is a great choice....more info
  • Mistress of the Art of Death
    Very good read. Liked the author's style of writing. Will look for other books by this author. Received book very quickly!...more info
  • An excellent beginning to a new series
    First Sentence: Here they come.

    A child has been murdered and residents in Cambridge claim he was crucified by the Jews. The Jews provide Henry II with a large part of his revenue and requires that the real killer be quickly found. From Naples come Simon of Naples, an renowned investigator, Mansur the Saracen, and a woman doctor trained in the study of corpses at the School of Medicine in Salerno, Adelia Aguilar. The bodies of other children are found, and Adelia is determined to find their killer.

    I am about to gush! This book was judged the best researched of its year by the BBC and historian Dr. David Starkey. Happily, it is not written in Middle English and, as the author admits, some liberties were taken. Others more versed in this time than am I, may be able to find historic fault with it. I don't care. I found the history fascinating and learned even more about life in this period. The style of writing was wonderful; from that first three-word sentence, I was entranced. I loved the characters; Adelia, Simon, Mansur, Ulf, Gyltha, Prior Geoffrey, Henry II (whose voice I shall always hear as Peter O'Toole's) were real to me and others became so as the story progressed. The language was a bit challenging at first, but soon became easy to read. The sights, sounds and smells of the town were described to place me within the story. The story kept me involved from beginning to end and tapped all my emotions. There is a wonderful romance which arises to warm the heart and quicken the pulse. I laughed, cried; was moved, frightened and appalled and I can't wait until the next book comes out next May. What can I say; I loved it.
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  • Written style doesn't match 12th century England
    This is a good story, that kept me turning the pages. However, I have these criticisms:
    1. The sentence structure is difficult in some places: Franklin's writing style is ackward, and tough to follow.
    2. The writing is modern, as is most of the dialogue. This didn't match the setting of the novel, which is supposed to take place in 12th century England.
    3. The love story is insipid. The addition of this sub-plot adds nothing to the novel as a whole.
    4. The story about Adelia herself isn't very believable.

    That being said, this is still a good story, with lots of twists and turns. I'm giving it 3 stars just for its' entertainment value....more info