medieval crime solving

Someday I will tell you the story about how I’ve been to 4 DMV’s in the last two weeks. Someday, when it’s been relegated to merely anecdotal and not just a spur in my side over getting a front row seat to the inefficiencies of our local bureaucratic government I will pass along the humour of the lessons learned about the privilege of driving. For now, just know that I am finally free and clear to put some miles on my car. And I am prepared to do just that (whilst adhering to the speed limit the whole way). I am, to quote a song, ON THE ROAD AGAIN….

But back to what I’ve been reading.

The Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

This is another book suggestion that came to me from my friend Jenna. She actually handed me this along with another book one day as I was visiting her house and just said, “Read these.” No ifs, ands, or buts about it. The two books had to hang out in my car for a couple of weeks until I emptied out my reading queue and conquered the beast of Anna. 

The Mistress of the Art of Death was actually the first book in my final 15 of 2011. And she was quite the mistress. I haven’t read a novel like this since high school really. I read a lot of historical fiction then. Particularly the Cheney Duvall, M.D. series by Gilbert Morris. I’m a little embarrassed by how I so devoured all of the Gilbert Morris books at my school’s library. Mr. Morris struck my fancy because of the time periods he chose to write about, but each of his novels followed the same basic plot, over and over, and over again. I read the Cheney Duvall series and the Winslow family series up until about the 1920s I think. Then I moved on to Francine Rivers… a much better literary choice.

But Cheney Duvall and The Mistress, or Adelia, had quite a lot in common. They were both fictional pioneers in the field of medicine being the only women doctors in their novels. But then the similarities sort of stop. Adelia is from medieval Italy, more agnostic in her beliefs than anything else, championing for the Jews and religious freedom in a world that was quickly drawing very black and white lines between Catholic and Not, and rather than practicing medicine on living patients she works more as a coroner.

The novel is interesting. I haven’t read anything forensic in awhile, so it was strange for me to follow the clue building. That sort of stuff holds my attention very well in movies and television shows… but in books I just sort of get bored and want to get back to the people. However, I did find Adelia’s approach to determining the time of death quite humorous (I believe one of the detectives on CSI used a similar method).

The medieval time period also tickled me… particularly since the novel takes place in the few weeks following the murder of Thomas a Becket. (I got to see where he was murdered last time I visited England and I had a brief passion for all things Canterbury Tales, even A Knight’s Tale.)

So, bidden by King Henry II, Adelia, her bodyguard and another Jew from Italy travel to England to solve a series of murders. The victims are all children under the age of 10 or so and the Jews of the fictional town Cambridgeshire are being held captive in the local castle (for their safety).

The people of the village, the rival monastery and nunnery, and the awe inspiring knights returning from conquest in Outremer swirl around the edges of the plot. And all the while Adelia tries to put together the motive for the highly aggressive murders.

Though Henry II is only on a few pages I think I enjoyed his stomping around moreso than anything else in the novel. The political tenterhooks were also quite fascinating to me. A professor I had last year always talked about how England always bucked the power of the Roman Catholic church… that it never really felt right under their dominion. Ms. Franklin definitely captured that feeling in Mistress.

The time period is so particularly fascinating because the lines between Science and Magic, witchcraft and knowledge, progress and delusion were so indecipherable for many of the people… they were afraid of everything, developing superstitions at the drop of a hat… and yet, intelligence, clear-mindedness, and cunning thrived and grew despite the high cost.

This book kicks off a series. I’m not so sure I have the patience for series right now in my life. I sort of like the one and done aspect of most novels. Though I could see myself revisiting Adelia if I get a hankering for medieval Britain. Or maybe I’d just visit Heath Ledger and Paul Bettany again… I’m seriously surprised we haven’t completely worn that DVD out yet.


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