Mistress Of The Art Of Death by Ariana Franklin

“The first decent historical mystery of the blog so far.”

That was how I described The Death Maze, the second book in the series by the late Ariana Franklin concerning Adelia Aguilar, the first female anatomist. So, in my typical timely manner, nineteen months and a bit late, I get round to Mistress of the Art of Death, the book that introduces the character and her band of merry followers. Hurrah for ‘Nother Chance November.

Children are being murdered in horrific ways in the vicinity of Cambridge and the local villagers are blaming the Jews. So much so that two are executed and the rest isolated in the castle. Fearing a massive loss of taxation, King Henry II sends for help. Enter, from Salerno, Adelia Aguilar, Mansur and Simon, a team of investigators – Simon being the sleuth, Adelia the pathologist and Mansur the muscle, and also the shield that Adelia has to hide her talents behind. But as they become accepted into the Cambridge community, it seems that the killer, the hideous Rakshasa, has not finished his deadly business… and it seems that he has set his sights beyond mere children…

OK, let’s go through the tick boxes. The characters, in particular the leads and their friends are very well presented. We get an insight into most of them at times, Adelia most of all, obviously, and clearly Franklin has put a lot of thought into the development of them. The setting is also vivid, and the fear in the darkness, the Rakshasa, is pretty terrifying at times – in particular in the chapter when one character describes how he chased the killer across Europe.

There’s a “but” coming, you can tell, can’t you?

While The Death Maze was a decent little mystery, this isn’t. It doesn’t try to be, to be honest. Instead, it’s a medieval thriller. Imagine if you will one of those nasty serial killer books that I occasionally bang on about transposed to a medieval setting, and you’ve got the plot of this book. OK, to be fair, we don’t have the killer’s point of view sections that usually make me stop reading, but this isn’t what I consider a mystery. It’s an investigation into who is the local repellant nutjob, and it’s a guessing game. Indeed, while Adelia works out where to find the killer, she doesn’t have a clue who it is until… well, that’ll be a spoiler so I won’t mention that bit. But really, I didn’t think there was enough plot to fill 500+ pages. I found it slow to start, picking up the pace around page 200, but then felt very let down by the ending. And, as in the second book, although I did enjoy Henry II sauntering in to put the world to rights, it does seem rather uncharacteristic of a monarch’s behaviour.

The setting and characters give it plus points, but, after The Death Maze giving me hope in the existence of the decent historical mystery, I was really disappointed by this one. While I’ll be back for the third installment at some point, I don’t think I can recommend this one very highly. Read The Death Maze instead – because I think if I’d read this one first, I wouldn’t have made it to the second, much better, book.


  1. I read this book just over a year ago… before I was blogging. So I don’t remember exactly what I thought of it. I have not been pleased with other books when the culprit is a nut job. That is what I love about blogging… now I can go back and see my thoughts at the time. Anyway, I did like it enough to buy more in the series. I think I liked the setting and the storytelling to live with the other elements. And I am glad you liked the next one, because I plan to read it.


  2. I’m glad to see this review. This one was originally on my list of books to read this year, but it’s just not going to happen. I think I’m glad….I may bypass it all together given your description above. I was originally drawn to it because it takes place near Cambridge…but with the nutjob killer, I’m not sure the setting will be enough for me.


    • I think the general problem was that at the end of the day, you could have changed the identity of the killer and it wouldn’t have changed the book at all…

      I still heartily recommend the second of the series – a more more carefully plotted tale and, iirc, a proper mystery. Not set in Cambridge though…


      • I get a chance I may go for the second of the series…based on your recommendation. But I’ve got to get through the rest of my “must reads” for this year first….


  3. I liked Arianna Franklin’s books very much but I think I’d agree with you that non of the subsequent novels were as good as the first one. She was always a solid read for me though.


      • I see – I’m hopeless at remembering titles so I assumed this was book 2. As you can guess by my comment, I enjoyed this one. Ah well – it’s just as well we all enjoy different things.


      • The world of literature would be a dull place if everyone enjoyed the same thing. But, I suppose, that would mean a 50% chance that 50 Shades of Grey and its ilk wouldn’t exist… might not ‘ve a bad thing 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.