Mistress of the Art of Death – Ariana Franklin

Surfacing from TBR.

Stars: Three and a half of five.

Review format: Note plus links.
Summary: 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.  (from goodreads)
Provenance: Bought used from Bay Books, San Ramon CA.

Mistress of the Art of Death – Ariana Franklin. 

I was excited to encounter a used copy of Mistress of the Art of Death in the fabulous Bay Books, while I was on vacation.  It had been on my TBR pile for about six months.

The premise is quite interesting- a female forensic scientist back when the science was almost non-existant, and women didn’t enter professions whatsoever. The historical detail is engrossing – the best part of the book, I think.

About a month has elapsed between reading the book and writing this review, and I am having some trouble coming up with specific comments. This is a symptom that it did not make a lasting impact on my memory.

The romantic tension and the actual mechanics of murder mystery were the weak points.

That’s all I can scrape up. I know I wanted to look for the sequel, so that means it is three and a half stars.

Links, comments, and quibbles

Links and other reviews   (added by me, not generated)

  • I read one Kathy Reichs ‘Bones’ book, once upon a time, and it struck me rather similarly.  My desire to like it was greater than my actual liking for it.
  • Read about Jehane, in The Lions of Al’Rassan, if you want an incomparable  female doctor character.
  •  Thumbnail recap reviews of the first 3 mistress books at the Avid Mystery Reader.
  • SheReadsNovels – enjoyed it and looks forward to sequels.
  • By the way, the author died in January 2011. Her real name was Diana Norman – you can find a larger number of books by her under that name.


  • The setting and sympathetic characters overshadow the mystery.
  • The mystery comes across as a bit implausible, especially the geography aspects.
  • I didn’t quite buy into the romantic tension build-up, though I was cheering for them.

Things I liked

  • I liked the resolution to the romantic story arc.


Would you like me to link your review? Let me know in a comment, and I can add it here.

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