A chilling, mesmerizing novel that combines the best of modern forensic thrillers with the detail and drama of historical fiction.
In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been murdered. The crimes are immediately blamed on the town's Jewish community, taken as evidence that Jews sacrifice Christian children in blasphemous ceremonies. To save them from the rioting mob, the king places the Cambridge Jews under his protection and hides them in a castle fortress.
King Henry II is no friend of the Jews-or anyone, really-but he is invested in their fate. Without the taxes received from Jewish merchants, his treasuries would go bankrupt. Hoping scientific investigation will exonerate the Jews, Henry calls on his cousin the King of Sicily-whose subjects include the best medical experts in Europe-and asks for his finest "master of the art of death," an early version of the medical examiner.
The Italian doctor chosen for the task is a young prodigy from the University of Salerno. But her name is Adelia-the king has been sent a "mistress" of the art of death. Adelia and her companions-Simon, a Jew, and Mansur, a Moor-travel to England to unravel the mystery of the Cambridge murders, which turn out to be the work of a serial killer, most likely one who has been on Crusade with the king.
In a backward and superstitious country like England, Adelia must conceal her true identity as a doctor in order to avoid accusations of witchcraft. Along the way, she is assisted by Sir Rowley Picot, one of the king's tax collectors, a man with a personal stake in the investigation. Rowley may be a needed friend, or the fiend for whom they are searching. As Adelia's investigation takes her into Cambridge's shadowy river paths and behind the closed doors of its churches and nunneries, the hunt intensifies and the killer prepares to strike again . .
Mistress of the Art of Death was chosen as my TBR List read for October. I was interested in the historical and forensics aspects of this story, I was not expecting wry humor and to be drawn to the characters the way I was. While the crimes being investigated are too terrible to think on for long, the personalities of Adelia and her companions, and the new friends she makes invested me in their lives and the outcome. Even Henry II, in the story for very little, quickly gained a place in my affections.
They are an unlikely trio, the atheist woman, Jew and Moor who are sent to investigate this crime. Right away before they ever even make it to town, Adelia's secret of being a female doctor is out to some, but they try to maintain a fiction that Mansur is the doctor, which he attempts to play to the hilt. Adelia herself comes to care for the people more than she would have expected, even some of those she suspects of being a potential criminal.
Sadly this author has already left us, but I do have several more of the series to look forward to. Her storytelling style was easy to get involved in, and was not at all dry or tedious which can sometimes happen in a historical, even to those of us who like them!