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Mistress of the Art of Death Paperback – January 29, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 309 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

In this historical crime thriller, Ariana Franklin (the nom de plume for British writer Diana Norman) introduces the compelling Adelia—abandoned as a child, adopted by doctors, trained in Salerno (a center of learning), and now a woman of modern sensibilities. Critics agree that Mistress is an unusually smart and intriguing story. Franklin perfectly recreates the barbarous culture of the Middle Ages and the Crusades—an era of religious persecution and idealism that clashed with the burgeoning importance of science and the rule of law. Grisly forensic details, combined with whodunit suspense, fascinating characters, timely themes, and even a little romance make for an excellent read. Watch out for Adelia's return in next year's The Serpent's Tale.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Mistress of the Art of Death (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 420 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley; Reprint edition (January 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425219259
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425219256
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (309 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #166,357 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In Medieval Europe, a woman educated in the Art of Death in the famous school of medicine in Salerno, is sent to investigate a murder mystery. Accompanied by the renown mediator Simon of Naples and her eunuch manservant, Mansur, Adelia -- the Mistress of the Art of Death -- ventures into Cambridge to find the murderer. By chance, she arrives to find the Prior of the town ill -- unable to piss. Though she knows how to treat his infection, being a woman, she must perform the operation in secret to avoid charges of witchcraft. Thus, despite her formidable knowledge in forensic pathology, to the people of Cambridge, she must pose as an assistant to her manservant, who must pretend to be the doctor in charge. Saving the Prior, she gains a friend of power in town, who helps them in their mission.

Ariana Franklin's delightful humor is present throughout the piece -- even in the story's most dire moment, when Adelia is bound and trapped within breathing range of Death itself. Her characters have complex backgrounds that shed light on their present relations and actions -- the Prior's relationship with the housekeeper he hires for Adelia, and King Henry II has his own personal motivation for summoning these foreign specialists. Interestingly, the backstory comes neatly into play in the end: swoopingly, when King Henry arrives to see to matters himself, and subtly, when Adelia's housekeeper secretly passes on her relationship and the prior to Adelia and her love.

Franklin develops a tumultuous romance between Adelia and the famous Sir Rowley Picot -- both characters of importance, and equally stubborn in nature. Marriage, in those times as now, required an act of submission, which would not suit Adelia's personage. Yet -- after those involved in the murders have been dealt with and the truth made known to the public -- Franklin does take care to let Adelia live happilly ever after with her man, but with her own solution...
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In 12th Century Cambridge, children are dissapearing and turning up dead...with horribly mutilated bodies. Immediately the zealous Christians suspect the jews and a they attack the local jewery. For their own safety the Jews are kept in the castle away from danger. But they can't work and no income for them means no income for the King. So King Henry sends for the medieval equivalent of today's coroner from a top medical school in Salerno italy, a Master of the Art of Death.

Instead, he gets Adelia, a Mistress of the Art of Death, who is accompanied by Simon, the Jewish investigatory, and Mansur, a large Muslim eunuch who is Adelia's bodyguard. In the hysterical and superstitious climate of Cambridge, and in order to avoid a charge of witchcraft, Mansur poses as the doctor and Adelia his assisant. All three begin the difficult task of examining the childrens bodies, gathering the clues, and searching for the killer.

This book is sort of a cross between CSI and Silence of the lambs. The actual mystery is interesting and kept my attention but I kept getting pulled out of the book by dialogue or some historical fact that just didn't seem right. The characters, esp. Adelia, all have very modern attitudes and just weren't believable. Additionally the story went on way too long after the killer is revealed.

I liked the author's writing style though and it was infused with a lot of dry humor which I enjoyed. So ultimately although I did have issues with certain aspects of the book, they weren't so bad that I regret reading it. If you can over look the modern attitudes and anachronisms and just read it for the story itself I think you'll really like it.
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Format: Hardcover
I have a thorough dislike of sloppy anachronisms. In fact, I have been known to fume for chapters and write scathing things about sloppy research when I encounter anachronisms. I knew going into reading this book that there were a few howlers. Cholera in 12th century England anyone? A room lined with books in the age of Henry II? A body farm in Salerno? I have to admit that the Author's note at the end helped reconcile me a bit when I started thinking about some of the things in the book that are improbable to say the least.

However, I have to say that this story grabbed me by the arm and dragged me in and would not let me go until the last page. And the author really did use Henry II as an effective character and an important object lesson. Who does remember a Henry aside from his domestic imbolgios and his fight with Thomas a Becket? Eleanor of Aquitaine had much better press.

And whether or not the romance was an afterthought to please an editor as suggested by another reviewer-- I think it was intrinsic given the role it plays in the development of various stings of the plot-- there is much about it to make genre romance fans weep and gnash their teeth.

For the interesting characters, for the different view of the 12th century, for lots of good reasons, pick this book up.

A little investigation turns up that this is a pseudonym for Diana Norman. I'm going to pick up a few of her other historical novels under that name.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a wicked book - in no time at all you'll find yourself looking up to see the clock at 3:00am. And, as I later realized, that won't even get you half way through the book when the really fast-paced action and suspense grows.

The writing is well done and perfect after a long day...though admittedly, the use of some of the more modern english ("ain't", etc.) throws one off first, it does serve to help flesh out characters who are educated versus those who aren't.

And yes, if you are a fan of CSI, you'll love this book. If you like mysteries, you'll enjoy it. And if you crave a good historical fiction, this is just the thing. And, if you're like me, and have all three of those characteristics together, then don't waste time reading any more reviews -- get this book.

Note to the author, Ms. Franklin: I do so hope we get a sequel. Very much enjoyed the protagonist and the world in which she lives.

J. Avellanet, Co-Founder of Cerulean Associates LLC
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