Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin is a well-crafted mystery set in twelfth-century Cambridge England. Four children have been murdered and the Catholic citizens blame the Jews. In order to save the Jews from the usual mob they are placed under the protection of King Henry II. Yes, this is the same King Henry who ordered the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, and was whipped by monks as punishment.
King Henry asks his cousin, the King of Sicily, to send him one of the best medical experts in his kingdom. He wanted a "master of the art of death" which would be the equivalent of a medical examiner in our time. The doctor chosen to travel to England is one of the best medical students at the University of Salerno, but is a woman. The King of Sicily decided to send the King of England a "mistress of the art of death." Her name is Adelia and she faces many challenges in a country as backward and superstitious as twelfth century England.
Adelia is befriended by Sir Rowley Picot, one of the King's tax collectors. Sir Rowley plays a key role in the novel. Her investigation covers a great deal of ground, uses extant technology, and involves all levels of society including the clergy. The author's descriptions of the period are excellent and very informative. Sometimes I think I learn more about medieval England from well-researched novels than from history books I have read.
Adelia eventually solves the mystery of the murders, but what a trip along the way. The plot is fast-moving, the characters compelling, and the ending a real shocker. I don't want to say any more about the book without giving away too many of the details. If you think you would like a good mystery set in medieval England, read this book. Even if you don't, read it anyway. You will be glad you did.
As usual, here is some praise for the book:
"The bold, brilliant heroine of Mistress of the Art of Death is the medieval answer to Kay Scarpetta and the CSI detectives. This is a compelling, unique, and vibrant page-turner." Karen Harper, bestselling author of the Elizabeth I mystery series.
"CSI meets The Canterbury Tales. Franklin hits commercial paydirt with this criminal investigation drama set in twelfth-century England. A potentially winning formula, delivered with panache." Kirkus Reviews.