Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Murderous Procession by Ariana Franklin

This is the latest title in the engrossing "Mistress of the Art of Death" series which I discovered (and subsequently gobbled up) last summer. I don't seem to have taken the time to write about this series here before, so let me bring you up to date - these are historical mysteries set in the England of Henry Plantagenet, the forward-thinking king who introduced the concept of Common Law. The main character is Adelia Aguilar, a Sicilian who is fortunate enough to have lived during the time when women were allowed to learn and practice medicine. She has become something of an expert in forensics - hence the name of the series. Adelia is sent to England to help Henry II track down a serial killer, and he likes her so much that he decides to keep her around to help him solve other mysteries. Adelia is unable to content herself with marrying a local noble and settling down to raise a family, so she carries on practicing medicine in a subversive way so that she can avoid being branded a witch by narrow-minded Britons who believe any woman with medical knowledge MUST be evil. The series follows Adelia as she helps out King Henry in various ways, falls in love, becomes a mother and all the while continues to use her medical knowledge to cure those who would otherwise die in a time when religious superstition reigns over common sense.

A Murderous Procession takes our heroine, Adelia, away from 12th century England, for a change - this time she has been asked to be part of the huge retinue accompanying young Princess Joanna, ten-year-old daughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, to Sicily for her marriage. Ariana Franklin has a gift for weaving her careful historical research into a story without getting bogged down in the detail, and I was happy to have a chance to read about life in 12th-century France. The cities, the courts, and the lonely villages; the priests, sailors and royal entourage all seemed so real as Joanna and her entourage travelled through the country on their way to Sicily.

As far as the novel goes, it was an interesting read but the "mystery" part seemed to suffer in this installment of the series; it was made clear from the start who the bad guy was, and what his motives were, and he seemed pretty one-dimensional. That didn't stop me from enjoying the book, though - I finished it in a day or so and I will happily pick up the next title in this series when it comes out!

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