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…
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
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!
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?