Friday, February 09, 2007

Book Review: "Mistress of the Art of Death"

An agnostic female doctor, a Muslim eunuch bodyguard, and a Jewish investigator walk into twelfth-century Cambridge ... no, it's not the start of a bad joke, but the opening of Ariana Franklin's new novel Mistress of the Art of Death. Trained by Salerno's best doctors, Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar (Adelia for short) and her colleagues have been summoned by King Henry II to examine a series of deaths in Cambridge for which the town's Jews are blamed. Henry, whose beneficence to the Jews allows him to make a fair bit of money by taxing them, wants the murders solved and the Jews absolved so that they can go back to making him money.

This is a well-researched novel, with excellent and vivid period details (not to mention some seriously depraved crimes). The elements of suspense are well played, although I felt that the murderer's character wasn't developed enough (some of the others, in contrast, were handled very well). My main quibble with the book was the 'obligatory' romantic subplot, which I thought was largely contrived and a bit goofy. Nonetheless, this was a good mystery and I fully expect a few sequels.

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