Friday, July 24, 2009

Mistress of the Art of Death

As some of you know, I read a fair number of mysteries on top of my speculative fare. I just finished this book, by Ariana Franklin, and overall, I very much enjoyed it.

It's set in mid-twelfth century England, a few decades after the Cadfael era and sends Adelia - a female doctor from the medical school at Salerno - as one of a pair of investigators to discern who killed four children in Cambridge ... and absolve the Jewish population, which would otherwise be profitable to the king.

The historical detail and the way it is conveyed is fantastic. It all seems to flow; I never had the sense that I was being lectured. It all feels very sharp and authentic. This extends into Adelia's perception of herself in the male world (it's pleasant to see a confident period female character who doesn't come off strident or too modern), the way disease is handled, and everyone's attempt to understand the idea of a serial killer.

I did have some significant issues with the book. What probably annoys me most as a writer is the headhopping. Franklin can't seem to stay in one character's thoughts for the duration of the scene, and it's confusing to track where she's switched without the scene breaks. It also makes it hard to tell who the main character is supposed to be when the book opens, which is not where I want to be.

More on the issue of the actual plot, a few things: I guessed the killer less than halfway through the book, so I can't think that it was very well-disguised as I stink at guesswork. ;-) I also found the romance sort of "forced" - it springs up out of nowhere. The way it's played out is entertaining, but I was sort of exasperated by the whole, "Oh, instantly when he's absolved of suspicion she's going to realize she's fallen for him," tact.

I was amused by how much it feels like "medieval CSI" without actually breaking that sense of being in-period. Really, the crime is solved by committee, and there are a handful of supporting characters who help Adelia out immensely. I appreciated this aspect - so many mysteries are lone detective, or detective + batty sidekick.

Anyhow, overall it gets my stamp of approval.

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