Ariana Franklin's medieval thriller centers on Adelia Aguilar, a "mistress of the art of death." Trained as a doctor at the famed medical school in Salerno, Italy, Adelia's life's work is to hear the cries of the dead, not from their mouths, but from the injuries inflicted on their bodies. Through careful examination, Adelia can determine how, when and where someone died.
She is called on to help investigate a series of grisly child murders in 12th-century Cambridge, which the local citizens have blamed on the town's Jewish population. An angry mob has forced the Jews to flee their homes and seek shelter in the local castle, where they live on the charity of the Plantagenet monarch, Henry II. Henry, who relies on the Jews for their tax revenue, wants them exonerated.
I very much enjoyed this unusual twist on the modern forensic thriller. Franklin created a cast of appealing characters, with secondary characters - including an idiosyncratic housekeeper and cook, a stubborn, streetwise boy, and a particularly odiferous dog - sometimes stealing the show.
Franklin skillfully wove together many plot threads while illuminating the culture of medieval Cambridge. I learned about Jewish, Christian and Muslim customs, the lives of knights on crusade and the struggles that sometimes occurred between faith and reason.
Adelia herself was a likable character - a determined woman in a man's world, absolutely sure of her calling - and although I rolled my eyes a bit when Franklin gave her a love interest, that storyline was resolved in a way true to her character.
The climax of the tale was suitably exciting and horrifying. Franklin concluded her story with a dazzling appearance by Henry II himself, once again confounding church authorities while seeking true justice in his kingdom.
My grade: A.