The Mistress of the Art of Death is a perfect storm for some moms. Part mystery about a strong headed woman in a man's business; part CSI investigation; part historical fiction with fun facts about daily life in the middle ages; and part modern romance. Author Ariana Franklin, who looks like a very nice realtor who's not afraid of a dirty joke, blends the genres well to make a quick, summertime girly read for those with a taste for the criminal procedural.
And while the book may not be truly historically accurate, who cares? My only quibble is that Franklin seems much more skilled at writing mystery than romance. The tension leading up to the somewhat unpredictable and undeniably unrealistic (for the time its meant to take place) romance is fine, but once she gets into the bodice ripping, there are a few moments where you may want to roll your eyes: “Lubricated”, “Harlot”. Still, these are small squabbles, and what's the point with a read this enjoyable?
We are thrust into the English countryside of the 12th century just as many townsfolk from Cambridge return from their pilgrimage. All seems oh so very Chaucer-esque, except that one of them is a child murderer. The people are blaming the ostracized Jews, who are holed up in the castle for protection. While there, they're unable to make money for King Henry II, so his interest in clearing their name is of utmost important.
Enter, Adela a rarity in that she is a practicing and trained doctor from Solerno, Italy one of the only places on earth where it's legal for a woman to have such knowledge.?She's an expert mistress of the art of death, a middle ages Katherine Willows–sans the former exotic dancing career. When she finds herself shipped off the England to solve the grisly child serial murders, not only is the investigation itself a risky mystery, but she must keep her profession a secret lest she be tried as a witch and burned at the stake.
This is one of two books (so far) that feature the bold Adela and her medical skills that lead to all sorts of middle ages intrigue. The second, The Serpent's Tale, draws her into the personal life of Henry II himself when his mistress is killed.
I'd love to see this character adapted for Masterpiece Theater series, it would be such a better use of PBS funds than shilling out for a seven hundreth Jane Austen adaptation. They'd be making many a mom (and myself) very happy.