Saturday, February 28, 2009

From The TBR Pile

So I finally managed to get to a book that's been hiding in my TBR stash for quite some time. It's Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death. Now, when I read Franklin's debut (aka Diana Norman so her first book under the Franklin pseudonym) City of Shadows, I was literally blown away. I actually have it as an unbound manuscript so I really couldn't take it with me anywhere, or read in the tub like I usually do, but it was so fantastic that I literally just sat in my room with the binder until I finished. I really thought that it was wonderful (I think I'll have a post on it one of these days soon). 

Anyway, when I saw that Mistress was due out, I ran out and snatched up a copy. And then when Serpent's Tale came out, I ran out and snatched up a copy of it too. And now Grave Goods, book three in the series, is due out and I figured that it was time for me to actually read these books! Grrr. I know, just like every other book hoarder knows, that I buy more books that I can possibly read. It's a hoarding thing and fortunately I only do it with books. 

I blame it on my jobless year as a freshman in college. I thought I wouldn't be able to afford to feed my habit. Little did I know, mom was well aware of my addiction and any time things were particularly rough for me that first year, she'd give me money to go out and buy myself some books. But the hoarding mentality, grabbing up every appealing book now so that I will have it when I want it, stuck. And working at the bookstore didn't make it any better. As the person in charge of the fiction sections of the store, I saw pretty much every new title that came into the stores I worked in for about 6 years. That's a lot of impulse buying. And I intend to read every last one of them before I die! Course it keeps growing exponentially, but I'm confident it can be done : )

And then times like this hit and I gotta tell you, after turning the final page in Mistress, I wanted to jump right in to Serpent. It was that good! So it was, in this case, a really good thing that I had book two waiting for me when book 1 was finished. 

Mistress of the Art of Death is the first in a series of twelfth century mysteries featuring a female pathologist. At the time, there was a famous medical school in Salerno that allowed female students. Adelia Aguilar is the best of the best as far as her teachers are concerned, so when the English town of Cambridge has a string of kidnappings that directs all suspicion on the city's Jews, the King of Sicily steps in to lend a hand. He sends his best master in the art of death (Adelia) along with her bodyguard and his best investigator to Cambridge to find out what is going on. With the current (12th century) climate, however, Adelia must keep her skills and her purpose a secret from all but a select few. And, when her partner in this endeavor is killed, she becomes determined to solve the mystery on her own, even if it means exposing herself in the meantime. 

I think this is the most brilliantly conceived forensic mystery I have come across in a long time. And, Franklin has chosen an amazing period of history as her setting. It is true that in Salerno, at the time, women were allowed to practice medicine. Add to that the outlook of the people on various issues and you've got what seems to be a short period of change before the plague and subsequently the Church changed everything. It's fascinating and it's obvious that Franklin has a. done her research and b. is excited about the period she's chosen. It all comes through in the reading and makes Mistress a book that just sucks you in. 

Mistress of the Art of Death will appeal to both historical fans as well as fans of forensic mysteries. Imagine if Temperance Brennan lived in medieval times (even though Brennan is a forensic anthropologist, I think temperament-wise, both characters are head-strong and stubborn, and totally lovable).

Both Mistress and Serpent are out in paperback now, Grave Goods is due out in hardcover on March 19.

1 comment:

Vickie said...

This has made it to my nightstand section of Mt Git'r'Read. I need to read this one day. It was on my wishlist forever, then I got it and it has languished either on the closet section or now on the nightstand.
I think it is going to be like when I read Jacqueline Winspear's MAISIE DOBBS. A change of environment for a woman to be a PI in her time. I love that book, so I am thinking I am going to love MISTRESS as much. Thank you for the review!
PS: I completely empathize on the book hoarder mentality. I buy books I know I won't get to any time soon, but in case I am without funds or there is some kind of book drought, I am ready.