Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Mistress of the Art of Death

At last a new review. I've been so busy recently that though I've managed to find a little time to read, I haven't found enough time to review the book I've been so immersed in. And that book is:

Ariana Franklin is actually Diana Norman an author whose books I've enjoyed for years - my favourite being The Vizard Mask. She writes historicals and Mistress of the Art of Death is no exception apart from the fact that it is also a crime novel. Think Cadfael or the Shardlake novels by C.J. Sansom and you have it.

The story concerns Adelia who is something very rare indeed in the year 1170, a doctor. In fact she is a doctor trained in autopsies, a 'Mistress of the art of death'. Children are being abducted and murdered in Cambridge and the Jewish quarter is suspected. In fact they've been interned in Cambridge castle, which means that Henry II is losing revenue and is not a happy bunny. The King of Sicily arranges for Adelia to travel from Salerno with an investigator and a eunoch to find out what's going on and solve the crime. What Adelia finds when she eventually arrives in a land very foreign to her, shocks her, and it takes every bit of her resolve and then some to get to the bottom of events.

Almost without doubt this is going to be one of my favourite reads of 2007. Everything about it was perfect from the setting, to the less than perfect characters, to the genuine creepiness Franklin instils into the plot. I found myself actually holding my breath on several occasions, the suspense was so effective. Flawless writing helps of course - Franklin's writing is at times spare, at other times, not at all, but always appropriate. And her gift for local dialect is spot on. I can't think of anything derogatory to say about it to be honest - the only thing perhaps is that I did guess 'whodunnit' fairly early on but that in no way detracted from my enjoyment. I do so hope this is going to be a series as I would love to read much more of Adelia's struggles amongst the heathens of 12th. century England.


Tara said...

This sounds very interesting! I tried one of Diana Norman's historical novels once- I think it was called Catch of Consequence and didn't really like it. It sounds as though this book is different enough for me to try this author again.

Cath said...

Hi Tara!
Catch of Consequence isn't my favourite Norman novel either. I preferred its sequel 'Taking Liberties' which is set here in Devon and involves prisons and smuggling and is a lot more fun. The Vizard Mask is actually my favourite of her historicals though.

The odd thing is her style has completely altered for Mistress of the Art of Death. You wouldn't recognise the writing as being by the same author. It's very much more focussed and skilful even. A gem, imo.

Framed said...

I haven't heard of this author, but it will be fun investigating her novels. This one is going on my TBR list. Thanks for the review.

Cath said...

Framed: I don't think you'd regret putting this one on your tbr pile. Everything about it was just *so* good.

Peter Rozovsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Rozovsky said...

Mistress of the Art of Death impressed me, especially since I’ve always been apprehensive about historical crime fiction. But Mistress … does a neat job of keeping itself accessible to contemporary sensibilities while remaining a plausible take of 12th-century England. I’d call that quite a feat, and I look forward to reading the second book in the series.

The romance was not my favorite part of the novel, especially since romance is not my genre. But I will give Ariana Franklin credit for having some fun with it. I rolled my eyes when she made it appear that Adelia was going to find and marry her Shining White Knight. Then I rolled my eyes again when Franklin had Adelia turn him down, because I thought I was running into a bit of feminist tendentiousness. But I smiled when Franklin came up with a happy medium between marriage and refusal!

"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"