19 December 2009
CSI in the 12th Century
Just the day after i post about not wanting to "speed read" through good books i tore through Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin yesterday. I had only read a couple chapters Thursday at work because we were very busy. I didn't expect to read it all through last night but the book really captured my attention. The fact that it was only 276 pages certainly helps.
It's the 12th century in Cambridge, England. Several children have gone missing and the one that was found was horribly mutilated. Suspicion falls on the local Jews because the first crime fell during Easter, and everyone knows that Jews sacrifice a Christian child at Easter! (arg, religious superstition!) The Jews flee to the town's monastery and, since they can't make money and pay their taxes in confinement, Henry II sends for help from his cousin, the King of Sicily.
He gets Dr. Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar of Salerno, the best "mistress of death" that the medical academy has produced. With her are Simon of Naples, a Jewish detective, and Mansur, an Arabic bodyguard. The trio has very modern ideas, though they must have Mansur pose as the doctor to prevent Adelia from getting charged with witchcraft. They use their various realms of expertise, helped by the Prior of Cambridge and others, to solve the mystery of the terrible murders.
I have to say i'm ambivalent about the romance plot. The whole "woman who is brilliant at science/doctoring/anatomy but knows little about how feelings work" is definitely overused in modern lit. But this book takes place when there wasn't any such thing as "work-life balance" and people's, especially women's, choices were extremely limited by their position at birth. And Adelia has been sheltered, from emotional things if not knowledge of them. And i really liked Sir Rowley Picot, which means i have to let the romance pass.
Overall, i give this one a 6. I figured out half the mystery pretty early but the second half surprised me. There are a few standard mystery tropes included but i don't know that they detract from the story. I enjoyed reading of Adelia's thoughts and ideas on her adventure. I have the second book on my TBR stack right now and there is a third out and a fourth coming early next year. Hooray for series'!