The Death Maze (2008) by Ariana Franklin

OK, I think the mildly (?) obsessive side of my personality has kicked in – I’m determined to find that great historical mystery. I’ve decided in my head that On The Wrong Track doesn’t count, as it’s set too recently, but I thought I’d take a hint from Kerrie at Mysteries In Paradise, who favourably reviewed Relics of the Dead, the third in the series. One trip to the local library later, and I was in possession of this one, the second in the series.

To give some background, Ariana Franklin was in fact Diana Norman, the late wife of Barry Norman. She wrote four books about Adelia Aguilar, the Mistress of the Art of Death. It’s a funny combination of historical mystery and forensic science as she is the first anatomist, apparently. It doesn’t feel particularly out of place, however, and in this story, where she’s called to help when the King (Henry II)’s mistress is poisoned – it’s up to her to prove or disprove the Queen’s guilt and prevent a civil war. As this war didn’t happen, history fans, it’s a pretty safe bet there’s an unknown hand behind things.

This is a huge step up from the historical mysteries so far. There are clues and everything! It’s well written and the character of Adelia is very convincing, as are some of the supporting characters. I thought at one point that I would get tired of the notion that she had to pretend to be the translator to her Arab friend Mansur, who had to pretend to be the brains, due to her gender, but it wasn’t hammered home and led to some interesting situations.

The mystery element is pretty decent. There are two separate strands going on, and if you’re awake, the brains behind the main and more interesting element is heavily signposted in the first chapter, but the identity of his or her henchman or woman is well-hidden, but reasonably so. To be fair, I’ve had to read the book in small chunks and have been a little distracted while reading it, but while I don’t think the various identities will surprise the hardened sleuth, they aren’t completely obvious.

Some of the incidental characters get a little short shrift, and the ending is a little silly when the King himself turns up, but again, he’s a well-written character and I wonder how hard Franklin found it to wait until the end before bringing him in – she clearly enjoyed writing him.

Overall, the first decent historical mystery of the blog so far. Hurrah!!


  1. I bet you’ll be getting lots of helpful suggestions about historical mysteries, so I’ll keep it to just one that might appeal.

    Have you read any of those by Paul Doherty? He is mindbogglingly prolific (all while holding down a full time job as a headmaster apparently) and a lot of his novels feature impossible crimes. The writing is light and functional but he certainly knows his history and the plots usually play fair too. He has published under quite a few pseudonyms, all of which are listed in his pretty helpful website:

    Happy Easter.


    • I would particularly recommend the Hugh Corbett books, set during the reign of Edward I and the ‘Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan’ series set later in the 14th century – I remember quite liking the locked room mystery, ‘The House of the Red Slayer’


  2. Glad you enjoyed the Ariana Franklin. Diana was a good friend and her untimely death hit her fans hard. I’ve just discovered BEN PASTOR, whose books are only just starting to appear in the UK, but I highly recommend THE WATER THIEF set in 4th cedntury Rome, though as an archaeologist (as is Verbena (Ben) Pastor) I am probably more drawn to the impressive historical detail, which is brilliantly done, than to the mystery element.


    • Thanks for the tip, Mike. I will be looking out for the rest of the Ariana Franklin books – they are, quite significantly, the best historical mysteries I’ve found so far.

      I’ll put Ben Pastor on my list, but, as I say in my review, the mystery side is the most important part for me. I’ll post what I find.


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