The Mistress, the Death ... A True Art

Wow! This book is one of the finest treats for history lovers I have ever come across. I had read that Franklin died recently and that the last book written in this series ends off on a cliffhanger, but the reviews persuaded me to go ahead and give it a read anyway. I am so happy that I did.

In a time during England's history when anything out of the ordinary immediately came under suspicion and women were considered soulless temptresses responsible for the Fall, a female doctor seems unlikely - impossible even. Enter Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar of Salerno. A woman raised amidst the culturally ambivalent atmosphere of a city in which a female could receive the same education as a man, Adelia is considered one of its most accomplished denizens. When Henry II - by proxy of the King of Sicily - calls for the expert investigative skills of a specialist in the examination of the dead it is Adelia who is sent. For she is not merely a doctor versed in herbalism, surgery, and ailments of the living ... she is a Mistress of the Art of Death.

Characterization in this book is strong and diverse. Amidst the mundane citizens of Cambridgeshire Franklin looses the unique and testy female doctor to the dead, her Moorish guardian, a Jewish investigator sent to assist her, and characters seemingly straight out of Chaucer. Our leading lady unexpectedly - and reluctantly - meets her match in Sir Rowley Picot, royal tax collector and seeker of vengeance. And tagging along is the scampish Ulf, an ornery urchin whose life and happiness come to mean a great deal to Adelia ... especially when threatened by a viscous and perverse murderer who stalks the countryside. Together, this colorful band sets their combined will against that of a befouled soul long lost to heaven.

Admittedly, the last bit of the epilogue reads like a history textbook and is ultimately irrelevant to the actual story, but I forgive Franklin as I am just that much of a history freak! I loved reading this story - even though there were scenes which were emotionally scalding - and can't wait to catch up with these wonderful characters in the next book. Bravo!

P.S. Yes, I fully admit to picturing Henry II as Peter O'Toole in his role from "The Lion in Winter!"