Mistress of the Art of Death ~ Ariana Franklin

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.

Franklin does a wonderful job of re-creating 12th century Cambridge in this fascinating historical mystery. One can’t help but feel passionate about her characters – good or bad.  Adelia the “Mistress of the Art of Death” is equally intelligent and stubborn and afraid of being considered a witch because women aren’t allowed to practice medicine in England.  Simon of Naples is an endearing detective who brings Adelia to England along with Mansur, Adelia’s manservant/protector. The three of them band together to solve the gruesome crimes before anymore children become victims. But the job is a treacherous one with several of their acquaintances also suspects. Lots of twists and turns and a cameo appearance by Henry the II make this a delightful, yet slightly scary read.

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