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Halloween for the Faint of Heart: “Mistress of the Art of Death”

I don’t do scary, creepy, or horrifying. Not in movies, not in books. If it will keep me up at night, I am not interested! So each year, when October comes around, I feel a little left out. What’s an easily scared reader to do amidst the Halloween frenzy?

This year, I’ve put together some of my favorite non-horror Halloween-appropriate reads. I’ll be sharing them over the next few days. If you, like me, are a bit faint of heart, stop back for some books that just might get you into the Halloween spirit. Welcome to the first installment of…

Halloween for the Faint of Heart Badge

First up, how about a little Medieval mystery? I don’t like contemporary mysteries; they feel entirely too…possible. But with historical mysteries, the time gap creates enough separation that I can enjoy the story without worrying.

The Mistress of the Art of Death Series by Ariana Franklin

Mistress of the Art of Death series by Ariana Franklin

One of my very favorite historical mystery series is Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death series. At present, there are four books: Mistress of the Art of Death, The Serpent’s Tale, Grave Goods, and A Murderous Procession. You could pick up any of these books and enjoy it, but in my opinion it’s best to start at the beginning. The plot lines and characters do build on one another from story to story.

A coworker at my former bookstore job liked to tell customers it’s twelfth-century CSI with a feisty female lead, and I’d say that about sums it up. Adelia, our heroine, was raised in Italy by adoptive parents and trained as a physician at the University of Salerno. She is, indeed, a feisty female lead and provides a challenge for anyone interested in telling her what to do, as many characters eventually discover.

The first installment, Mistress of the Art of Death, brings Adelia to England from Italy. Cambridge has seen a series of murders, and Catholics are blaming Jews in a dangerously escalating situation. King Henry II writes to his cousin, the King of Sicily, and requests a “master of the art of death” to be sent right away to aid in the investigation. Who arrives is Adelia–more a “mistress” than a “master.”

Outside the academic haven of Salerno, Adelia cannot openly practice medicine without being labeled a witch. And so Adelia has an arrangement with her companion and protector, Mansur: though his English is quite good, Mansur plays the role of an Arabic-speaking doctor for whom Adelia pretends to translate. Together they work to solve the mystery for King Henry, provide an identity for the murderer and, thus, restore peace to Cambridge.

In The Serpent’s Tale, Adelia is summoned by King Henry II to investigate the death of his mistress, Rosamund Clifford, who has apparently been poisoned. The number one suspect in Rosamund’s death? Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry’s estranged queen. Grave Goods takes Adelia to Glastonbury Abbey, where human remains rumored to belong to King Arthur and Queen Guinevere have been discovered. Finally, in A Murderous Procession, Adelia is assigned to accompany the king’s young daughter, Joanna, on the journey from England to Italy for her wedding. But as the procession winds slowly toward its destination, it becomes clear that a murderer is in its midst. Who is he hunting…and why?

The characters who populate the series are wonderful. They are strong and well developed and lovable. King Henry and Sir Rowley are each an even match for Adelia, in their own ways. Mansur is clever and loyal. And Adelia is a wonderful heroine: strong and capable, yet frustrated by the restrictions forced upon her by her gender. Add to the main quartet a variety of interesting secondary characters and you have a series you can’t help but want to revisit.

The website for the Mistress of the Art of Death series features full summaries as well as excerpts for each of the books. If a historical mystery sounds good to you right about now, head over and peruse the excerpts!

Your Turn!

Do you have any good historical mysteries–series or single titles–to recommend? Do you find them to be any less scary than their contemporary counterparts?

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  • http://www.lovelaughterinsanity.com Trish

    I haven’t heard of this series but it does sound interesting. I really like historical fiction but don’t read a ton of it–always seem to forget about it.

    One of my favorite creepy non-horror reads is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Fantastic and fascinating read if you haven’t read it already!

    PS–I don’t do horror either, so we can be left out together. 😉 I can’t even watch scary movie previews–have to close my eyes!

    • Erin

      Ooh, I have The Historian on my shelves already! That does sound like a good creepy Halloween book.

      I’m glad someone else out there doesn’t love scary! I close my eyes, too. I learned my lesson in high school after my friends convinced me to watch “What Lies Beneath.” I still get creeped out when I think about it!

    • http://www.readinasinglesitting.com Stephanie

      Oh, the Historian is wonderful. Very compelling.

      I’m not a huge horror reader either, although I do love dark and eerie stuff. I’ll probably read some Poe or MR James for Halloween.

      Actually, one creepy book is Danielewski’s House of Leaves…although it’s a bit indulgent at times.

      • Erin

        I might have to do The Historian for next Halloween. It sounds perfect, but there’s no way I’ll fit it in this year!

        I’ve heard House of Leaves is creepy and, thus, I’ve stayed away :-)

  • http://www.buriedinprint.com BuriedInPrint

    My most recent attachment on that score is the Maureen Jennings’ series, the Murdoch books. I read the first one over the summer and am deliberately trying to stretch the time between volumes because I know it’s a finite number and I so enjoyed the first. I’m looking forward to other suggestions here!

    • Erin

      Hm, I don’t know the Murdoch books, but I’ll check them out! The nice thing about a series that’s still being written is that you kind of have to space the books out. Though that can be frustrating at times!

  • http://sophisticateddorkiness.com Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

    I haven’t heard of this series either, but it sounds like fun. I’m not usually a horror or murder mystery sort of girl either, so your “faint of heart” series is right up my alley.

    • Erin

      I’m glad to see there are actually some people out there who aren’t horror fans! I feared I might be talking to myself with this series.

  • http://bermudaonion.wordpress.com bermudaonion (Kathy)

    Great idea! I’ll have to jot this series down since I don’t do scary either.

    • Erin

      I really enjoy it. I feel like I’m reading a mystery, but the historical aspect both distances me from the mystery piece and adds another layer that interests me.

  • http://www.booklineandsinker.com nat @book, line, and sinker

    lol…i’m not a fan of scary movies, but i think my husband owns every one ever made. i’ve gone with him on occasion but spend the entire movie with my hands over my eyes.

    as for books, i’ll read spooky ones as long as it’s daylight. :)

    love your button for the not-so-spooky reads.

    • Erin

      Lucky for me, my husband isn’t particularly interested in scary movies! I can’t even read scary books in the daylight. They tend to stay with me long into the night!