Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

mistressoftheartA medieval mystery in which Simon of Naples, a eunuch and a unique woman with the ability to decipher the wounds inflicted on bodies, race to discover the identity of a violent killer of children before he strikes again.

From its opening lines, The Mistress of the Art of Death had me in its thrall. “Here they come. From down the road we can hear harnesses jingling and see dust rising into the warm spring sky. Pilgrims returning after Easter in Canterbury. Tokens of the mitered, martyred Saint Thomas are pinned to cloaks and hats- the Canterbury monks must be raking it in. They’re a pleasant interruption in the traffic of carts whose drivers and oxen are surly with fatigue from plowing and sowing. These people are well fed, noisy, exultant with the grace their journey has gained them. But one of them, as exuberant as the rest, is a murderer of children.” pg 1.

I have been to Canterbury and viewed the spot where Thomas Becket was cut down by the knights of Henry II. It is an amazing place. Even more so when you consider that it has been standing for so long. I loved going back there, if only in a story.

The Mistress of the Art of Death herself, Adelia, is a brilliant and headstrong heroine. She embodies what I imagine women to have been in the time before we were allowed the same privileges as men. “She sighed with impatience. “I see you are regretting that the woman, like the doctor, is unadorned. It always happens.” She glared at him. … “Turn over that stone”- she pointed to a flint nearby-“and you will find a charlatan who will dazzle you with the favorable conjunction of Mercury and Venus, flatter your future, and sell you colored water for a gold piece. I can’t be bothered with it. From me you get the actuality.” He was taken aback. Here was the confidence, even arrogance, of a skilled artisan.” pg 52.

The reality that Adelia has been taught to see is not pretty. She learns all about the horrors that mankind inflicts on one another through her schooling. It has hardened her, but she seeks, beyond all else, to give voice and justice to the murdered. “Man hovers between Paradise and the Pit… Sometimes rising to one, sometimes swooping to the other. To ignore his capacity for evil is as obtuse as blinding oneself to the heights to which he can soar.” pg 77.

And yet, Adelia is still sassy. I loved her attitude. “He found her modest- a description, Adelia had long decided, that was applied to women who gave men no trouble.” pg 88. Though this novel could have dragged the reader through the stultifying reality of medieval attitudes and prejudices, instead Ariana Franklin takes us on a sparkling adventure filled with just enough detail to give the flavor of the time.

Recommended for those who like mysteries, historical fiction, strong heroines and perhaps some romance on the side. The Mistress of the Art of Death, though it touches on dark themes, was a welcome respite for me from a world that so often shows its shadows. I hope that it is an escape for you too.

Thanks for reading!

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

cabin10A so-so mystery with an unreliable narrator that takes place, for the most part, on a boat. It was ok thriller, but I would never have read it without the encouragement of my book club.

In the desperate search for “the next Gone Girl“, The Woman in Cabin 10was put forward as an option. I think that’s unfair. The next Gone Girlor Hunger Games will be so clearly original and ground-breaking that it couldn’t be titled the next fill-in-the-blank.

And, with that sort of hype, it put an expectation on this story that it didn’t live up to. But, that’s not The Woman in Cabin 10‘s fault.

It was clear to me that Ruth Ware had experience as a journalist. Her character, Lo Blacklock, is completely believable in that regard. But, I found that I didn’t like her much. She puts too much pressure on herself to succeed.

“I had to get myself together before I left for this trip. It was an unmissable, unrepeatable opportunity to prove myself after ten years at the coalface of boring cut-and-paste journalism. This was my chance to show I could hack it…” pg 20.

But, if she had taken the time to stay home and recover from her PTSD, what sort of thriller would that be? So, off she goes, onto a billionaire’s exclusive boat.

“…it was pretty nice. I guess you had to get something for the eight grand or whatever it was they were charging for this place. The amount was slightly obscene, in comparison to my salary- or even Rowan’s salary.” pg 47.

Then, in classic thriller fashion, she hears a scream in the night, sees something that no one, even she, believes and is now stuck in an enclosed space with a potential killer.

Even with that set-up, I didn’t get into the story. Lo is overly-dramatic and doesn’t take the time to think things through. I found myself wishing that she would slow down and start keeping a complete written record rather than running from one disastrous encounter to the next.

“I lay there, cudgeling my battered brain to try to work it out, but the more I tried to ram the bits of information together, the more it felt like a jigsaw with too many pieces to fit the frame.” pg 242.

She jumps to conclusions and accuses or dismisses people nearly on a whim. I’d read a passage and then say to myself, “Come on, is that really the best you could do?” Now, that’s hardly fair as she’s exhausted, terrified and traumatized. But still. That’s what I thought.

Plus, the “unreliable narrator” thing has been done. In this story, Lo’s unreliable because she has anxiety and drinks a lot to forget that fact. That sounds like almost everyone I know.

Recommended for fans of mystery. It is enjoyable, but don’t make my mistake and expect too much complexity from The Woman in Cabin 10.

Thanks for reading!