Mistress Of The Art Of Death, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (4 ratings)


Adelia Aguilar is a rare thing in medieval Europe - a woman who has trained as a doctor.

Her speciality is the study of corpses, a skill that must be concealed if she is to avoid accusations of witchcraft.

But in Cambridge a child has been murdered, others are disappearing, and King Henry has called upon a renowned Italian investigator to find the killer - fast.

What the king gets is Adelia, his very own Mistress of the Art of Death.

The investigation takes Adelia deep into Cambridge; its castle and convents, and streets teeming with life. And it is here that she attracts the attention of a murderer who is prepared to kill again...


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Crime & mystery
  • ISBN: 9780857500366

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Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.

Review by

Mistress of the Art of Death is the first in a series of medieval historical mysteries by the late Ariana Franklin.This book has an unusual heroine. Her name is Adelia Aguilar and she is a trained doctor, very rare in the year 1171. Adelia is from Salerno, where women are allowed to attend medical school. Her speciality, however, is as a 'doctor of the dead' - in other words, she is skilled in performing autopsies and finding out the causes of death. When several young children go missing in Cambridge and the city's Jews are blamed for the disappearances, Adelia is sent to England to investigate.I love reading about medieval history and Franklin touches on many different aspects of the period - from the big things, such as the relationship between the church and the monarchy, to the small, such as the clothes people wore and the food they ate. Adelia, being Italian, is unfamiliar with the politics and customs of 12th century England, which allows the reader to learn along with her - so no need to worry if you don't have much knowledge of the period. Despite some very modern dialogue and Adelia's distinctly 21st century thought processes, everything else felt suitably 'medieval'. Setting and atmosphere are so important in fiction and this is an area in which I thought Franklin excelled. It wouldn't really be fair for me to comment on the historical accuracy as I haven't studied the 12th century in any detail but I would say that if you're looking for a serious piece of historical fiction which is correct in every detail then you need to look elsewhere. Accept this book for what it is though, and it's an enjoyable read.The writing in the prologue and opening chapters feels quite light and humorous and I expected the whole book to have the same tone, but when Adelia begins to investigate the mystery things start to feel a lot darker. I should point out that the story does revolve around the abduction and murder of children which isn't nice to read about; it's quite graphic in places and a bit disturbing. As for the mystery itself, I didn't guess who the murderer was, but then I wasn't really trying to guess. Sometimes I prefer not to attempt to work things out and just enjoy the story - and this was one of those occasions.I found Adelia a fascinating and engaging character although, as I mentioned earlier, she thought, spoke and behaved more like a woman from the 21st century than the 12th. She's a strong, independent person who is constantly questioning the role of women in society and has a very modern outlook on medicine, the law and life in general; I liked her but she wasn't a believable medieval woman. Most of the secondary characters are well-rounded and interesting, particularly Adelia's housekeeper, Gyltha, and her grandson, Ulf - and I loved the depiction of Henry II.I enjoyed Mistress of the Art of Death and I look forward to being reacquainted with Adelia Aguilar in the other three books in the series.

Review by

CSI in breeches - Diverting but little substance. Just a regular whodunnit transferred to medieaval times to make it seem different.

Review by

A child has been brutally murdered in Cambridge and three others disappeared; the population blames the Jews, who had to seek refuge in the castle after an angry mob killed two of their own. Without the Jews being able to ply their trade, King Henry II is losing valuable revenue and has asked his friend, the king of Sicily, to send an investigator and someone versed in the art of death, in other words, a forensic scientist. As a result, Simon of Naples, along with Mansur, the manservant and bodyguard, and Adelia Aguilar, doctor to the dead, arrive in England on their secret mission, intent on discovering the child killer.Having read The Death Maze first (not realising when I picked it up that it was the second volume in a series featuring Adelia Aguilar), I was very keen to start at the beginning to discover how Adelia and Mansur had arrived in England. As with The Death Maze, Ariana Franklin's characterisation is first class (I particularly liked the dog, Safeguard, with its abominable smell), imbuing everyone (fictitious or real) with flesh and blood. The feudal system, the power struggles between the Church and the State (in the person of the king), the persecution of the Jews, as well as day-to-day life in Cambridge towards the end of the 12th century, were brought vividly to life, and the identity of the killer (mostly) a surprise. As this novel is about the murder of young children, some of the passages were quite harrowing, especially to me as a parent. The reason this book doesn't quite get full marks is that there were sections in the middle of the book where the pace slowed quite considerably, as the group investigate and Franklin gives the reader a flavour of the time, perhaps losing herself in detail a little too much to maintain the pace. I also would have welcomed a glossary of the more unfamiliar words of the time and of the East Anglian dialect that some of the characters in the novel are fond of using.I was sad to learn about the author's death (now already two years ago) while I was reading it, so it's upsetting to imagine that there won't be any further adventures with Adelia and her friends after the fourth volume, Assassin's Prayer. In the meantime, I've already got the third volume, Relics of the Dead (sitting on the shelf), to look forward to.

Review by

I really enjoyed this book and look forward to getting my hands on the second one of this series. It is a basic and gruesome medieval murder detective, and it was exactly what I wanted. Exciting until the very last minute when Henry makes his appearance.

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