A Terrific Historical Whodunnit!

Mistress of the Art of Death: Ariana Franklin

Death hurts. And when its gruesome hands grip innocent children, it’s something else altogether. Four children are murdered in medieval England. The townspeople blame the Jews and riot against them; the story of how Jews murder children on every Good Friday runs through the ages. King Henry I wants no taint on his Jews – they keep his treasury filled – requests his cousin the King of Sicily to send him an investigator.

In order to bring the killer to justice, Simon of Naples is hired, and along with him a medieval pathologist and a lady, Adelia Aguilar, and her trusted companion, Mansur, a Saracen eunuch, arrives at the scene in Cambridge. That Adelia is the smartest of the three is quite evident from the start. But as a lady doctor who would be branded for witchcraft, she takes a backseat for a while. Franklin’s writings are bound by the strength of its women characters. In this case, Adelia, as well Gyltha, a loud-mouthed but selfless East Anglian grandmother in the story. Adelia is intelligent, strong-headed, calculative, and humane.

Simon’s and Adelia’s probes lend clues to the murder, but unseen hands are busy throwing obstacles in their way. Adelia’s quick thinking and ability to follow leads bring them close to the killer, though they’re sidelined many a time. Not knowing whom to doubt and whom to trust, they question everyone from the Jews and Christian priests to the crusaders and locals. Dramatically, as it turns out, it the king himself who tweaks the climax of the story.

Each page of the book is gripping, to say the least. For me, it was like reading a CSI plot set in medieval England. By the time I’d reached the part about the child murders, I had a faint feeling it was based on real events. And rightly so, the author says in her note that the story was based on the murder of a child in Norwich, in 1144.

Franklin’s use of laconic sentences aids the reading. But do not mistake short for lack of information. In certain passages, there are five-word sentences that hit the nail on the head much better than a whole paragraph of the same would. Further, short paragraphs, too, make it easy on the eye.

The author is meticulous in giving detail: in a situation, everything from the actual event and its participants to the surroundings and even how it merges with the plot is elucidated to the minutest detail.

Franklin’s grasp of history is just superb. What makes a historical thriller thrilling enough is how the history is entwined across the plot and how interesting history can be made without sounding bookish to the reader. I’ve seen very few writers who can do the same. Through this novel, Franklin informs us about the mores, lifestyle and mentality of the people in England in the 12th century, the way they live in a society, how they interact with each other, their tolerance, or lack thereof, towards foreign cultures and peoples – all of this without making us feel we’re reading a page out of an encyclopedia.

Franklin’s background as an expert of the Middle Ages and her work as a journalist lends its elements to the novel. She was awarded the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award in 2007, for the novel, her first historical thriller. This novel is part of a series, and as a lover of all things historical, I’m gonna grab the next in the series soon.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (2 votes cast)
A Terrific Historical Whodunnit!, 10.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings

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This entry was posted on Sunday, June 20th, 2010 at 10:44 pm and is filed under Authors, Crime, Historical Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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