Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mistress of the Art of Death

This month's Book Babes selection is an historical romance and mystery is set in England, 1171, the time of Henry II: Mistress of the Art of Death by Arianna Franklin.

The novel is set in a time of superstition, when people are thrown into ponds to see if they are guilty or innocent of the crimes they stand accused. It is also the same period that Henry II introduces Common Law and the concept of trial by jury.

Our heroine Adelia is the "mistress of the art of death", trained in Italy to uncover the secrets corpses reveal.

She has been summoned to Cambridge because the Jews in the town have been wrongfully accused of the ritual murders of four children. Imprisoned, denied access to their money and cut off from society, the Jews are being persecuted and will likely be lynched if the real killer is not soon revealed. Henry knows the Jews are innocent, but is equally concerned about the loss of tax revenue. He calls on his ally, the King of Sicily, to send his finest master of death, unaware that the physician on the way is female.

Women are not allowed to practise medicine in England, so Adelia must act as an assistant, while her chaperon takes on the role of doctor. The subterfuge is necessary to prevent her from being charged a witch.

Ulf, a young boy and the killer's next target, is lovable and smart; he is also described as 'dwarfish' and having 'an ugly little face.' It is somewhat refreshing to have slightly offbeat characters. It was amusing that the object of Adelia's affection is not particularly physically attractive. Her lover is a bit fat. In the end they seem destined to enjoy a very long-term, passionate affair, if not marriage.

Not one of my favourite book club selections, this is still a fun read. A tad predictable in the mystery department. A bit unconventional as a romance.

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