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Mistress of the Art of Deathby Ariana Franklin
Synopses & Reviews
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...
"It's hard enough to produce a gripping thriller — harder still to write convincing historical fiction that recreates a living, breathing past. But this terrific book does both, and does it with a cast of characters so vivid and engaging that you'd be happy to read about them even if they weren't on the track of a sexually depraved serial child-murderer. 'Mistress of the Art of Death'... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) opens with a clever takeoff on Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales,' which introduces the central players, a group of pilgrims returning from the shrine of the newly canonized St. Thomas a Becket: a prior and a prioress (from rival abbeys); two knights, lately returned from the Crusades; an overweight but very shrewd tax collector; a gaggle of citizens; and three Gypsies, who are in fact secret investigators sent by the king of Sicily to discover the truth behind a series of gruesome murders near Cambridge. Four children have been found dead and mutilated. The Jews of Cambridge have been blamed for the murders, the most prominent Jewish moneylender and his wife have been killed by a mob, and the rest of the Jewish community is shut up in the castle under the protection of the sheriff. As the only group allowed to commit usury — that is, to lend money at interest — the Jews are prosperous, and thus the king of England considers them his prize cash cows. He wants them cleared of suspicion and released, so they can go back to paying him high taxes. To this end, he appeals to his cousin, the king of Sicily, to send his best master of the art of death: a doctor skilled in 'reading' bodies. Enter Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, 25, the best mistress of death that the medical school at Salerno has ever produced. With Simon of Naples, a Jewish 'fixer,' and Mansur, a eunuch with a mean throwing-ax, it's her job to find a murderer before he — or she — can kill again. Adelia comes onstage when she meets the prior under dramatic circumstances on the road, saving him from a burst bladder caused by a swollen prostate by thrusting a hollow reed up his penis. Not every man would follow up on an introduction like this, but the prior wants the mystery solved, too — and if the solution happens to ace out the rival abbey, so much the better. Adelia finds 12th-century England a barbarous place. England finds Adelia a jaw-dropping anomaly. And Franklin exploits the contrast brilliantly. We're on Adelia's side from the start, identifying with her quite modern sensibilities — but at the same time, as she begins to know the English inhabitants as people, we sympathize with them, too. And a small but nice romantic subplot develops as the celibate, married-to-science Adelia discovers to her horror that live bodies have minds of their own. Though the story is set in Cambridge, the Crusades run through the culture. We see both the corruption and the idealistic faith of the period, and while the Jews come off by far the best, Christians and Muslims are portrayed with evenhanded understanding. Beyond this, the story's background is a wonderful tapestry of the paradoxes and struggles of the times: Christianity and Islam, Christians and Jews, science and superstition, and the new power of Henry II's rule of law versus the stranglehold of the Church. There are also fascinating details of historical forensic medicine, entertaining notes on women in science (the medical school at Salerno is not fictional), and a nice running commentary on science and superstition, as distinct from religious faith. Franklin does this subtly, by showing effects, rather than by beating us over the head with her opinions. These are clear enough but expressed with artistry rather than political correctness. Franklin likewise balances cynicism, humanity and objectivity well. Adelia feels horror, fury and sympathy on behalf of the victims and the bereaved, but she doesn't let that get in the way of finding the truth. And the story makes it clear that the motives of those who want a solution to the crime are not necessarily purer than the motives of those who want to conceal it. 'Mistress of the Art of Death' is wonderfully plotted, with a dozen twists — and with final rabbits pulled out of not one hat but two, as both the mystery and the romance reach satisfactorily unexpected conclusions. It's a historical mystery that succeeds brilliantly as both historical fiction and crime-thriller. Above all, though, Franklin has written a terrific story, whose appeal rests on the personalities of the all-too-human beings who inhabit it. Diana Gabaldon is author of a series of historical novels, including 'Outlander' and 'A Breath of Snow and Ashes.'" Reviewed by Diana Gabaldon, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"The bold, brilliant heroine of Mistress of the Art of Death is the medieval answer to Kay Scarpetta and the CSI detectives. This is a compelling, unique and vibrant page-turner." Karen Harper, New York Times bestselling author of the Elizabeth I mystery series
"Though her narrative is somewhat uneven, Franklin (City of Shadows) delivers rich period detail and a bloody good ending reflecting the savagery of the times." Booklist
"CSI meets The Canterbury Tales....Franklin hits commercial paydirt....Franklin has devised an appealing amalgam of genres....A potentially winning formula, delivered with panache." Kirkus Reviews
"Franklin presents a fascinating character in Adelia, who is odd for her era and profession yet familiar in her flaws and complexity. This novel will surely please mystery fans as well as lovers of historical fiction." Library Journal
"[A] spellbinding yarn of pageantry, intrigue, sharp character studies and provocative themes....You won't be able to put it down." Chicago Sun-Times
"[A] rollicking microcosm of budding science, medieval culture and edge-of-your-seat suspense." USA Today
Set in medieval England, this chilling, mesmerizing novel combines the best of modern forensic thrillers with the detail and drama of historical fiction, as a "mistress of the art of death" — an early version of a medical examiner — arrives in Cambridge from Italy to investigate the suspicious deaths of four children.
The third book in the internationally bestselling Hangman's Daughter series takes readers to the imperial city of Regensburg, where the hangman has been accused of murder.
Set in the mid-1600s in the Bavarian town of Schongau, a hangman, Jakob Kuisl, is asked to find out whether an ominous tattoo found on a dying boy means that witchcraft has come to town.
Magdalena, the clever and headstrong daughter of Bavarian hangman Jakob Kuisl, lives with her father outside the village walls and is destined to be married off to another hangmans son—except that the town physicians son is hopelessly in love with her. And her fathers wisdom and empathy are as unusual as his despised profession. It is 1659, the Thirty Years War has finally ended, and there hasnt been a witchcraft mania in decades. But now, a drowning and gruesomely injured boy, tattooed with the mark of a witch, is pulled from a river and the villagers suspect the local midwife, Martha Stechlin.
Jakob Kuisl is charged with extracting a confession from her and torturing her until he gets one. Convinced she is innocent, he, Magdalena, and her would-be suitor to race against the clock to find the true killer. Approaching Walpurgisnacht, when witches are believed to dance in the forest and mate with the devil, another tattooed orphan is found dead and the town becomes frenzied. More than one person has spotted what looks like the devil—a man with a hand made only of bones. The hangman, his daughter, and the doctors son face a terrifying and very real enemy.
Taking us back in history to a place where autopsies were blasphemous, coffee was an exotic drink, dried toads were the recommended remedy for the plague, and the devil was as real as anything, The Hangmans Daughter brings to cinematic life the sights, sounds, and smells of seventeenth-century Bavaria, telling the engrossing story of a compassionate hangman who will live on in readers imaginations long after theyve put down the novel.
The third installment of the international best-selling Hangmans Daughter series
1662: Jakob Kuisl, the hangman of a village in the Alps, receives a letter from his sister calling him to the imperial city of Regensburg, where a gruesome sight awaits him: her throat has been slit. When the city constable discovers Kuisl alongside the corpse she locks him in a dungeon, where Kuisl will experience first-hand the torture hes administered himself for years. As nightmares assail him, Kuisl can only hope to prevail on the Regensburg executioner to show mercy to a fellow hangman.
Kuisls steely daughter, Magdalena, and her young doctor paramour, Simon, rush to Regensburg and try to save Jakob, enlisting an underground network of beggars, a beer-brewing monk, and an Italian playboy for help. Navigating the labyrinthine city, they learn there is much more behind the false accusation than a personal vendetta: there is a plan that will endanger the entire German Empire.
Chock-full of fascinating historical detail, The Beggar King brings to vibrant life another tremendous tale of an unlikely hangman and his tough-as-nails daughter, confirming Pötzschs mettle as a storyteller at the height of his powers.
About the Author
Ariana Franklin is the pen name of British writer Diana Norman. A former journalist, Norman has written several critically acclaimed biographies and historical novels. She lives in Hertfordshire, England, with her husband, the film critic Barry Norman.
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