CSI: Medieval England

12th-century England is like an episode of CSI.

At least according to Ariana Franklin in her first installment of her new eponymous series, Mistress of the Art of Death. Franklin uses modern language to write her tale which allows the intricate plot to reveal itself without being hampered by minutes spent deciphering medieval slang. For starters, if she had been properly contemporary, the setting would have been in Grentebridge instead of the modern town name of Cambridge. I appreciate this choice. I was not in the mood for the Canterbury Tales.
A child has been killed in Cambridge and the local Jewish population has been accused. For their safety, the local sheriff has all the Jews live within his walls. When more children show up dead, despite their alibi, the Christians still point their fingers at the Jews. King Henry II needs this matter settled because the revenue the Jewish businesses bring to his coffers has diminished now that they can’t work. Henry II contacts the King of Sicily to send the best Master of the Art of Death – a sort of detective-coroner in the likes of Temperance Bones.
What he gets is very different.
Adelia Aguilar is not happy to be traveling so far from Salerno. She needs to hide her knowledge and abilities for fear of being strung up as a witch. For protection she travels with a Saracen named Mansur and Simon of Naples, a Jewish investigator. After helping an important prior, Cambridge welcomes the trio and they set up shop with Mansur as the doctor and Adelia as his assistant. They begin to investigate.
The regular characters show up and all are mysterious enough to be considered as the serial killer. Knights recently back from a Crusade. The prioress of the nunnery who prefers to ride and hunt to more spiritual matters. Sir Rowley Picot, one of the king’s tax collectors who keeps showing up where Adelia is. Any number of men and women in the town who might be deranged or hate Jews.
Clues were found and pursued like in all good procedural tales. Similar wounds on the children indicate a weapon. Dust in hair and on clothes indicates a location. A jujube found in one of the victim’s hair is what lured the children.
Aside from the language, the investigation felt the most anachronistic. I know that historically people are always farther along than I expect. Like how modern chemical photography came into existence in the 1820s but the camera obscura was used over 800 years prior. So maybe the logical investigation of clues to rule out bad information until the truth is revealed was used for thousands of years. Not just recently by Gary Sinise in NYC.
Franklin did find a interesting way to get over the mid-novel slump that slows down so many good books. I won’t ruin it for you but someone unexpected dies and Adelia has a revelation that propels her forward, all within a couple of pages.
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