Day 1271: Mistress of the Art of Death

Cover of Mistress of the Art of DeathHere’s another book for the R.I.P challenge with a very appropriate cover!

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I recently realized that of Ariana Franklin’s Adelia Aguilar series, the only book I had not kept was Mistress of the Art of Death, the first one. This realization made me immediately buy another copy, which made a good excuse to reread it.

In 1171 Cambridge, someone is brutally murdering children. The locals have decided to pin these murders on the Jews, despite their having been locked up in the castle for safe keeping after the first death.

King Henry II has asked the King of Naples for help. An investigator is requested, as well as a Master in the Art of Death, a medical doctor who investigates the causes of death, trained by the University of Salerno. To everyone’s surprise and some dismay, along with Master Simon, the fixer, comes a woman, Adelia Aguilar, a doctor trained in Salerno.

Adelia finds herself in a relatively barbaric country where her identity as a doctor must be concealed for fear she will be accused of witchcraft. To be able to treat people, she passes off her Moorish manservant, Mansur, as a doctor, while she pretends to be his assistant and translator.

Her party enters Cambridge in the company of some pilgrims returning from Canterbury. Soon discoveries lead Adelia to fear that the murderer may be among the pilgrims she traveled with.

I think I enjoyed this novel even more this time through. The first time, I was skeptical that there were woman doctors in the 12th century. Now that I know Ariana Franklin better, I’m more confident that she did her research.

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Day 459: The Orphan Choir

Cover for The Orphan ChoirThe Orphan Choir is a departure from Sophie Hannah’s Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer mystery/thriller series. It still is darkly atmospheric and features her trademark neurotic characters but goes off in another direction.

Louise Beeston’s neighbor on her Cambridge street regularly wakes her up playing loud rock music late at night. When she goes over to complain in the beginning of the novel, he ridicules her in front of his friends and refuses to turn the music down. Louise’s husband Stuart can sleep through anything and doesn’t want her to call the police, but she does anyway. They refer her to the Council.

The music stops as the representative from the Council, Patricia Jervis, arrives, but Patricia seems very sympathetic and takes the complaint. Louise also complains to Jervis that her neighbor mocked her for sending her son Joseph away to school at the age of seven. Louise is actually very unhappy about the decision, but Joseph was given a place at a school that requires him to board if he is in the choir, and Stuart insists that she would be ruining Joseph’s chances if they send him to a different school.

Louise continues to hear music, but the neighbor seems to have begun a more insidious program of sometimes quietly playing choir music of children singing. After Louise turns on some loud music of her own at 6 a.m., when she knows the neighbor is sleeping, the rock music stops but the choir music continues.

With the house being renovated, Louise talks Stuart into buying a second home in a gated community in the country. Peace is the rule there, and she is happy and calm for awhile until an argument with Stuart about removing Joseph from the school results in Stuart summoning Dr. Freeman, the director of the choir, whom Louise despises. Suddenly, she begins hearing the choir music again, but without her neighbor nearby, she fears she is going crazy.

http://www.netgalley.comAs I am familiar with Hannah’s other novels, I suspected someone was gaslighting Louise, possibly her husband, who seems genial but overrides and undercuts her at many points during the novel, including summoning Dr. Freeman without discussing it with her first. Another suspect is Dr. Freeman, who seems creepy and overly concerned with whether Joseph is in his choir or not. However, I won’t say whether I was right. I think I prefer Hannah’s mysteries, but if you like novels that are unusual and slightly macabre, you may enjoy this one.