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Mistress of the Art of Death (Mistress of the Art of Death #1)

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  22,017 ratings  ·  2,168 reviews
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 riotin...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published February 6th 2007 by Putnam Adult (first published January 1st 2007)
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The Name of the Rose by Umberto EcoThe Alienist by Caleb CarrThe Historian by Elizabeth KostovaThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz ZafónMistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
Best Historical Mystery
5th out of 984 books — 2,404 voters
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur GoldenGone with the Wind by Margaret MitchellThe Pillars of the Earth by Ken FollettThe Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
Best Historical Fiction
119th out of 4,267 books — 17,708 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Alison Looney
Being a feminist reader of historical fiction is to invite inner turmoil. Excessively plucky female characters seem inaccurate. Some are constantly winking at the reader, as if to say, "after graduating with my degree in women's studies, I opted to spend a few months time traveling so I could offer enlightened commentary on unenlightened times. I hope you appreciate my presence in your book!"

But, without those characters, I'd be even more annoyed (and depressed) by the frighteningly woman-unfrie...more
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
This book was a group read on LibraryThing...The Highly Rated Book Group sponsored it, with the game-though-gravid Vintage_Books leading us through some very trenchant questions about our impressions of both the book and the world it's set in...and thank goodness for that! It's a lot more fun to read a book in a group of like-minded people, ones who read on multiple levels like our brethren and sistern here on this site.

Adelia Vesuvia, our sleuth, is a forensic physician in a time when I didn't...more
You know what I have really missed in my life? A Librarian. Not a librarian, small l, but a Librarian - that mystical, magical woman who watches what you read, and what you check out again and again, and who one day says to you: "You know what? I think you'd like THIS."

I like THIS. It's a mystery, set in medieval Cambridge; its heroine is a doctor, no, a coroner; there's a big mystery about murdered children (the Jews are being accused!), and also a charming (and unlikely) romance to add to the...more
In coming to the decision to purchase this book, Mistress of the Art of Death, I did my background research first. I visited a fair few blogs that had reviewed the book, and found that the reviews were so entirely positive that I couldn't wait to get my grubby paws on the book myself. The bloggers were not wrong (thank the gods). This novel is a gloriously delicious read.

Set in the Middle Ages as a medieval mystery, our protagonist has been asked to travel to Cambridge (United Kingdom) from the...more
I am a historical mystery geek, sometimes I'll go on a tear and read a whole series in a row, like the Peabody mysteries or Lindsay Davis' Rome mysteries, so I picked up this book after reading great reviews. I was not disappointed!

Very interesting setting, mainly compelling because of the main character,a medieval woman doctor. Felt well researched, a serial killer thriller set long ago in a fascinating world. Leans a bit too much in the "womanly" direction sometimes (I felt the romance was a b...more
I started this 5 days ago. I was worried from the start that it would not be my cup of tea. For five days my head is telling me: Be patient! Don't be rash. Give this book a chance. You know those books that you cannot put down? Well this belongs instead with those books that you cannot motivate yourself to pick up. That is how it has been for me. Now this is only my opinion, and I am pretty darn sure that I am the "odd ball out" here! Why? Well because generally I do not like crime stories, but...more
I was quite captivated by this book. As a medieval scholar, I had some initial doubts I'd like it because I am often disappointed by books that feature 20th/21st century concerns and situations in a medieval setting (investigating mysteries, forensic science, in this case). All too often, the authors don't get the historical elements right, and the story ends up being too anachronistic.

Ariana Franklin, however, knows her medieval history. The story is a page-turner as well, and the world Frankli...more
Beth (moonivy)
Sep 03, 2007 Beth (moonivy) rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: historical fiction/mystery fans.
Read 8/23-8/29/07

Mistress of the Art of Death tells the tale of Adelia, a "doctor to the dead" in the 12th century. Dispatched from her academic existence at the University of Salerno to medieval Cambridge to investigate the gruesome death of four
children, Adelia is forced to hide her true identity and attempt to blend in with the provincial English folk. Alternately horrified and fascinated, Adelia struggles to fulfill her mission, dodging danger and deceit at every turn, and maintain her sens...more
Children are being kidnapped in Cambridge, England, and one body has been found; local Jews are being blamed for their deaths. In order to identify the true murderer, a doctor specializing in autopsies comes to Cambridge from Salerno—but the doctor, Adelia, is female, and the year is 1171. A combination historical fiction and crime drama, Mistress of the Art of Death is a mediocre example of both: anachronisms litter the 12th Century setting, and the detective work is adequately plotted but unex...more
Ugh. Can I give a book zero stars? Where do I start? The anachronisms in this book could take up an entire review: feminism, religious tolerance, psychology, forensics and modern medical theory... I kid you not. The author has characters evesdropping on conversations in languages they don't speak. (Or do I assume that a 9-year old eel catcher in Cambridge speaks Arabic?) The plot is patchy and formulaic. The characters are completely one-dimensional and their relationships are not given any spac...more
I both enjoyed and was dissappointed by this story.

I'm sure this book was originally recommended to me because of the Jewish aspect but although they did provide a little (a lot less than I expected) background colour, for the most part I felt their inclusion was a Macguffin, useful in that the frequent historical Blood Libels gave the author a good excuse for gory child murder.

I also found Adelia's character a little flat and distant. She kept telling me how she felt about things but I rarely...more
Brigid (is a massive coffee addict)
Read this pre-Goodreads. My opinions are my own:

Lisa (Harmonybites)
Mar 09, 2014 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lovers of Historical Mysteries
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: Kandice's Gift
This historical mystery set in Henry II's England was the gift of a friend. Thank you, Kandice, you chose well. The central figure in the novel, Adelia Aguilar of Salerno, is a "Mistress of the Art of Death"--the closest thing the middle ages had to a medical examiner. And as unlikely as it might seem, a female doctor like Adelia is not a politically correct anachronism, was not unique--although she comes from perhaps the only place in the world that could have produced her. For from the 11th to...more
Overall, this is a very good mystery. The characters are well drawn, the amount of historical detail in the novel is impressive, though Franklin doesn't whack you over the head with "look at how much I know" syndrome.

Mistress tells the story of Adelia, who as some other reviewers (hi, Anita) have pointed out is a bit too modern. Adelia is to accompany Simon to Cambridge so they can discover who is murdering the children. Normally, they wouldn't want to set foot in England, but they've been orde...more
Tamora Pierce
This is the first in the Mistress of the Art of Death series, introducing Adelia, a doctor of medicine who is also trained in forensic medicine at the University of Salerno in Italy (a university which taught Christian, Jew, and Muslim alike) and her manservant the Saracen Mansur, a eunuch. When four small children are murdered in Cambridge, one of them seemingly crucified, the townspeople turn on the Jews of the city, who flee to the sheriff's castle for protection. Henry II needs the Jews for...more
Deborah Coates
Loved this book!

I'd looked at it a couple of times and thought it wasn't a book for me. It's a mystery, which I always like, but a woman doctor in the 12th century in England seemed not my sort of thing. But it was! It was totally my thing. It has lush writing and terrific interesting characters and an off-beat romance. The mystery wasn't terribly mysterious, but it was a pleasure getting there.

The characters are well-drawn and sympathetic and the author takes her time introducing them and show...more
This book is hard to rate; I think I'd give it about a 2.75. It held my attention throughout. It had a couple of moments that sent shivers down my spine. And I'm not sure I won't read more in the Adelia series. But there are some technical issues with Mistress of the Art of Death, and more importantly, I feel like Mistress took me to darker places than I wanted to go, and didn't have enough of anything else to make it worth the trip.

Everything after this is a SPOILER. Also, this is not a formal...more
Four and a half stars.
A historical thriller, The Mistress of the Art of Death, will rival modern day forensic medicine novels. The story combines medieval England in the 1200 century, crusader knights, questionable nuns, suspicious monks, and, a sly King Henry II, not to mention, four horribly mutilated dead children and the Jewish community that stands accused of these atrocities. The people of Cambridge believe the Jews have crucified their children in a passover rite. Then, add to this explos...more
Apr 09, 2008 Sarah rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: CSI fans, historical fiction, crusade fiction, 11th century Europe, Medieval Murder Mystery
Shelves: adult-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 27, 2013 Alondra rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Mystery Buffs
Recommended to Alondra by: Suzanne Hroblak
Shelves: books-i-own
4 Stars

This was such a departure from the genre-norm for me, but I am so glad I read it. It is hard to wrap my head around a time when women could not do whatever they wanted; and to such a degree as was portrayed in this book. Adelia being a coroner/medical examiner for her time is akin to witchcraft; so lightly she must tread.

In attempt to find a killer of children, Adelia must deal with the times and the prejudices, not only from men, but women as well. She must find clues where there are no...more
Despite the authors note at the back about the importance of historical authenticity, this book didn't seem historically authentic at all. Jewish-raised, Greek foundling, Sicilian female doctor in 12th century England unmasks a serial-killing sexual deviant, hangs out with Henry II, and endears herself to everyone around (except the serial-killing sexual deviant...SPOILER!)? Wouldn't it be better to just say: I know this situation is totally implausible, but the setting is historically accurate?...more
I almost didn't get this book. Rather, I almost didn't let Chris buy me this book. I wasn't sure of the present tense opening and the first person view of "we." However, this is only how the book begins (and ends.) In between is something that I would describe very much like reading an episode of CSI, only more enchanting.

The story takes place in 1170 in Cambridge. (The author uses the modern name for clarity.) Our heroine is a female doctor, something very rare, only practiced in Salerno, and l...more
I started reading this book with a buddy read at a Goodreads Group (YLTO). I hadn't heard of it before and may not have picked it up otherwise. Boy, am I glad, I did? Absolutely!

This one isn't your run-of-the-mill mystery. It's more sophisticated, almost like a classic. Yes, the language does read a bit like that and I surprisingly savored the slow pace and the new flavor (not to say I don't like classics but a good mystery-thriller + good classic-y language = a very good book).

The book was a bi...more
MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH (Historical-Adelia Aguilar-England-1170) – Ex
Franklin, Ariana (aka Diana Norman) – 1st in series
Bantam Press, 2007, UK Hardcover – ISBN: 9780593056493
First Sentence: Here they come.
*** A child has been murdered and residents in Cambridge claim he was crucified by the Jews. The Jews provide Henry II with a large part of his revenue and requires that the real killer be quickly found. From Naples come Simon of Naples, an renowned investigator, Mansur the Saracen, and a...more
I really enjoyed reading this book. I'm not normally a big fan of mysteries but since this book seemed so different I gave it a shot.

First of all I was surprisingly pleased about the lack of descriptions of the people in the book. While there were a few adjectives here or there, you (as a reader) weren't bombarded with a complete description of every character from the tops of their heads to their toes. I was delighted to be able to use my imagination for a change. I think the only thing I knew...more
This is an intriguing medieval murder mystery, set in Cambridge, England during the reign of Henry II. Several children have been gruesomely murdered, and the townspeople are blaming the local Jews. Henry is disturbed by the interruption of his revenue stream, so he sends for a medical expert to investigate the deaths and exonerate the Jews.

No one expects a female expert, of course, even if Adelia hails from the famous medical school in Salerno. We get to see how medieval Englishmen are even mor...more
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
It is 1171, and four children in Cambridge have been horribly murdered. The locals blame the resident Jews, and have lynched two of them, and the others have fled for safety to the local royal castle. Henry II, who values his Jews because they are worth so much tax revenue, has sent to Sicily for an investigator, or "fixer," and a "master of the art of death," who can say exactly how the children died. What he gets is Simon of Naples (the investigator), a mistress of the art of death, one Vesuvi...more
This book was CSI Miami meets a 12th Century England serial pedophile just didn't work for me. I thought the author was repetitive...I spent much of the book skimming pages. There were some very graphic imagery describing the children and the suspects...could have done without all of those, and I don't consider myself a prude.
Jun 02, 2009 bookczuk rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to bookczuk by: Pat from Ravenous Reader
I complained to my friend (who owns an Independent Book Store here) that even though I am in a frame of mind to not be able to read complex stuff right now, I wanted something a little different or beyond a love story or chick lit. She smiled and pulled this book off the shelf.

Okay, yes, there is some romance in it, but very little and very late in the book. Mostly it' a nice historical novel, with strong, interesting characters, set in a fascinating time. It takes the known facts of some histor...more
I wanted to love this one…I really, really did. I mean, the time period, the location, the type of story…It all sounded so promising. So, naturally, I got my hopes up. While I did enjoy it, I wasn’t blown away by it or anything. I enjoyed the mystery part of the story, but it wasn’t as suspenseful and exciting as I was hoping it would be. I did like cast of characters. They were all very different from one another and quite interesting, I thought. I think my favorite of the bunch would be Rowley...more
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Ariana Franklin was the pen name of British writer Diana Norman. A former journalist, Norman had written several critically acclaimed biographies and historical novels. She lived in Hertfordshire, England, with her husband, the film critic Barry Norman.

The Death Maze (UK) is published as The Serpent's Tale in the US.
Relics of the Dead (UK) is published as Grave Goods in the US.
The Assassin'...more
More about Ariana Franklin...
The Serpent's Tale (Mistress of the Art of Death, #2) Grave Goods (Mistress of the Art of Death, #3) A Murderous Procession (Mistress of the Art of Death, #4) City of Shadows Winter Siege

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“Love- however doomed, had the capacity to attach bouys to the soul.” 12 likes
“Welcome to the gates of heaven Adelia, and what did you do with your life? My Lord, I was a bishop's whore.” 7 likes
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