Thursday, February 25, 2010

Seventeen: Mistress of the Art of Death - Ariana Franklin

Cambridge, England 1172. 1 child has been brutally murdered and made a saint. 3 children have gone missing. The local Jews are blamed for the murder and locked up in the sheriff's castle. King Henry II sends two investigators to absolve the Jews from the murder of the child. As they arrive in Cambridge it is discovered that the 3 missing child were actually murdered.

Henry's investigators - Simon & Adelia - travel from Salerno, Italy to Cambridge with a group of crusaders and the local prior & prioress. Along the journey the priest is stricken ill and requires a doctors attention. Adelia, who is one of the only trained female doctors in Salerno, attends to him - even though customs require her bodyguard Mansur to pretend that he's the doctor.

Simon inquires with the prior about the murdered children. The prior agrees to help establish them within the town. He also arranges for Adelia to examine the children's bodies in private - as she is truely a doctor to the dead. Adelia meets Sir Rowley Picot - the local tax collector - who aids her in the examination of the children. Their personalities clash and Adelia is wary that Rowley might be the killer.

Word spread about the doctor's cure for the prior and suddenly lines of townfolk appear each morning outside the house where they are staying. Investigation into the murders needs to be balanced with tending to the patients. Adelia identifies chalk on all the bodies as well as a specific kind of wool was used to tie them up. Simon starts to query about the wool while Adelia explores areas that might have chalk buildups with a local boy, Ulf. Simon & Adelia also visit the sheriff's castle to question the Jews about the events surrounding the first murder.

As their investigation continues, it becomes clear that the killer was on a crusade and lives within the Cambridge area. Rowley helps Adelia continue the investigation after Simon is found floating in the river after a dinner party. Their investigation finally leads them back to the same hill where Adelia first performed that first procedure on the prior. The killer is caught (& murdered), but the local judges don't want to try the young nun who aided the killer in the murders. Instead they want to try Adelia - until King Henry arrives and proves that the young nun did help the killer.

This book started slow, but methodically in a way. I had a hard time seeing where the plot was going (which is good) and was pleasantly surprised by the plot twists. The sexual tension between the two main characters didn't interrupt the flow of the plot - although I felt the ending was a little bit of let down. It was interesting to read a book set during the Crusades - but focused on the their impact on the local towns in England. I'm curious to read other books by this author.

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