Mis­tress of the Art of Death

Ari­ana Franklin
  • Review
By – March 30, 2012

The scene is Cam­bridge, Eng­land in the year 1171. Chil­dren are being mur­dered and the super­sti­tious locals are con­vinced that a Jew is to blame for the crimes. A promi­nent Jew has already been mur­dered in revenge and a peti­tion has been sent to King Hen­ry II request­ing that all Jews be ban­ished from the kingdom. 

Ahead of his time, the king is a ratio­nal man. He doubts the guilt of the Jews and needs the tax­es he col­lects from their com­mu­ni­ty. To calm the local pop­u­lace and for their own pro­tec­tion, the Jews of Cam­bridge have been locked up in a cas­tle, where they are endur­ing cold and near starvation. 

Gal­lop­ing to the res­cue is the bril­liant and brave hero of this fas­ci­nat­ing nov­el, Vesu­via Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar of Saler­no, Sici­ly. Adelia is a true odd­i­ty for her time, a female doc­tor who is an expert in exam­in­ing the dead. Once she reach­es Eng­land, she can­not be known as a doc­tor, lest she be declared a witch and sent to her death. With her Mus­lim body­guard pre­tend­ing to be the doc­tor and Adelia his assis­tant, she com­mences the adven­ture of nav­i­gat­ing the cul­ture and the details of a com­plex case. 

Author Ari­ana Franklin deft­ly com­bines his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, mys­tery, a fem­i­nist trea­tise, and an unlike­ly romance into a great read. 

Nao­mi Tropp recent­ly retired after a long career in non­prof­it man­age­ment. She worked on the Ann Katz Fes­ti­val of Books at the Indi­anapo­lis JCC for 9 of its twelve years and direct­ed the fes­ti­val for three of those years.

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