Saturday, November 26, 2011
In 1176, King Henry II sends his daughter Joanna to Palermo to marry his cousin, the king of Sicily. Henry chooses Adelia Aguilar, his Mistress of the Art of Death, to travel with the princess and safeguard her health. But when people in the wedding procession are murdered, Adelia and Rowley must discover the killer's identity . . . and whether he is stalking the princess or Adelia herself.
I've really enjoyed this medieval mystery series by the late Ariana Franklin. I consider A Murderous Procession to be the best - and unfortunately - it is the last of the series. I found it hard to put down, reading until all hours of the night. Clever and evocative the story begins in England and ends up in Salerno on an agonizing cliffhanger of which we'll never know the conclusion, since the author died before she could write more.
Adelia Aguilar, a singular female doctor during the reign of King Henry II, is set up comfortably raising her precocious daughter in England. Finally having agreed to become Rowley, the Bishop of St. Alban's mistress, she is content with her life. But, she is unaware of the madman, Scary, who is stalking her. Two years earlier she had killed his lover in self defense. Scary has now returned to avenge his beloved's death. The gist of the mystery in A Murderous Procession is - who is Scary and how does he plan on killing Adelia?
King Henry II wields his authority far and wide. His favorite doctor is Adelia Aguilar and he insists - no, commands she escort his daughter, the young Princess Joanna to Sicily for her marriage to King William II. Of course, all sorts of problems occur en route. First of all, Adelia does not want to leave England in the first place, especially since she will have to leave her daughter behind. Rowley Picot, a former knight and her lover who Henry II made a bishop, wants her to leave for he has gotten wind of the threat on her life, brought to light by a series of near mishaps and fatal accidents to Adelia. He believes she will be safer away from England and the threat on her life. Ally, her daughter is left in the safe care of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry's estranged wife. With no other choice, Adelia begrudgingly escorts the young Joanna to Sicily, unaware that Scary, blending in and disguised as someone traveling with the large entourage, is accompanying her on the journey. Right under her nose, she has no idea - nor does anyone else - of the danger she is in.
The journey is long and soon it becomes apparent all is not as it should be. More accidents befall Adelia and eventually she and Rowley, as well as some new and old friends realize Scary is with them. But who is he? She's never seen Scary before so she can't identify him. The mystery was very well done and I guessed at one point who Scary was, but I changed my mind a few times and wound up being surprised. This is typical of the Mistress of the Art of Death mysteries. The culprit is always someone in plain sight - but who? They're devious and highly clever in the way they set their traps.
I'm deliberately being coy and leaving a lot out so as not to spoil the mystery, but much happens to Adelia and her traveling companions on the journey. She and her friends, Mansur and Ulf are nearly hanged at one point, narrowly avoiding death, though they are rescued in the nick of time. I found the storyline riveting - a real page turner all the way up to the climatic ending in the city of Salerno at the wedding of the princess. The author pares down the cast of suspects who are gradually removed one by one, narrowing them down to only a few possibilities. Often I thought I knew just who it was - only to have that character absolved - paralleling how Adelia conducts her murder investigations through autopsies. At one point during her stay for a few weeks while in hiding at a castle, she manages to solve the case of what killed an errant goat found dead. An autopsy gave her the answer thus preventing a great kerfuffle between two neighbors! A slight diversion from the rest of the storyline.
I highly recommend this series, the research is first rate, the plot lines are clever and not a little macabre due to the nature of the murders and motives. Adelia is a strong and independent heroine, reminiscent of Claire Fraser in the Outlander series with her talent and knowledge of medicine. One scene here has Adelia remove a ruptured appendix which I couldn't help but compare to when Claire in Drums of Autumn performs surgery on a grown man's testicle.
Her love interest with Rowley Picot is the constant throughout the entire series which also delivers a bit of angst since he becomes the Bishop of St. Albans, thus preventing them from ever marrying. They must keep their love secret for it is unseemly for a bishop to have a mistress. If only Adelia had said yes when he first asked her... but alas, they lost their chance due to her fierce independent streak and stubborn pride. If only... if only.
I loved this book and am so sorry this is the last to be seen of Adelia, Mistress of the Art of Death. The cliffhanger ending and introduction to the Irishman, Captain O'Donnell, a possible rival to Rowley, brings up all sort of possibilities for future books in the series. It makes me wonder what the author, otherwise known as Diana Norman, would have done in her future books. I am so, so sorry about her untimely death. Such a great loss to the literary world.
Overall - a memorable and well done historical mystery series that I've enjoyed immensely! I will miss it!