Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
For me there are always two kind of successful crime novels. One that has a tight plot, a modus operandi of the protagonist which flushes out the culprit from amongst the rubble. A novel as such, might or might not have a very potent ambience attached to it. The reader might not feel connected to the setting in which the events take place. The descriptions might not be that vivid. But the fact that the novel delivers a potent plot with a strong ending makes up for these shortfalls and ultimately turns the book into a successful crime novel.
The second sort is, the one which has a strong ambience to back up a plot which is not that twisted, neither the deduction powers of the protagonist gets called upon to point out the culprit. The culprit almost flushes himself out. But, the reader almost gets carried away to the time and place where the novel is set. The writer not only presents the reader with a landscape but also shows the mentality of the people living at that time. The potency is strong enough to overcome the shortfall of the plot.
Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin falls into the second category. Here we had a novel which managed to encompass three geographical entities into one novel. She brought into the pages of her novel, Cambridge, Salerno and the Middle East all in the setting of 1100s. She gave a short but detailed panorama of the early crusades. She then proceeded to tell us readers, how the Salerno School of Medicine allowed female practitioners in their ranks. Actually this is what I like with historical crime fiction. Even if the crime quotient gets a bit low at times, these books never cease to educate me in terms of history.
But, I expected a bit more from the plot and how it ended. Had this been a run of the mill plot where a king is threatened and the knight is called to save him, I wouldn’t have minded. But, Ms. Franklin laid down a plot which featured gory child deaths, a female coroner, old thirst for vengeance carried over from the crusades. She bought in the Jews being persecuted by the Christians, she introduced a masked devil called Rakshasa. I had expected that the end would come through shifting of clues and finally pinpointing the devil and then a showdown in the last chapters. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. But as I said earlier, the atmosphere compensated for this shortcoming.
A must read for any crime fiction lover, with a serious soft spot for this sub genre.
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