In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been murdered. The crimes are immediately blamed on the town's Jewish community, taken as evidence that Jews sacrifice Christian children in blasphemous ceremonies. To save them from the rioting mob, the king places the Cambridge Jews under his protection and hides them in a castle fortress. King Henry I is no friend of the Jews-or anyone, really-but he is invested in their fate. Without the taxes received from Jewish merchants, his treasuries would go bankrupt. Hoping scientific investigation will exonerate the Jews, Henry calls on his cousin the King of Sicily-whose subjects include the best medical experts in Europe-and asks for his finest "master of the art of death," an early version of the medical examiner. The Italian doctor chosen for the task is a young prodigy from the University of Salerno. But her name is Adelia-the king has been sent a mistress of the art of death.
Adelia and her companions-Simon, a Jew, and Mansur, a Moor-travel to England to unravel the mystery of the Cambridge murders, which turn out to be the work of a serial killer, most likely one who has been on Crusade with the king. In a backward and superstitious country like England, Adelia must conceal her true identity as a doctor in order to avoid accusations of witchcraft. Along the way, she is assisted by Sir Rowley Picot, one of the king's tax collectors, a man with a personal stake in the investigation. Rowley may be a needed friend, or the fiend for whom they are searching. As Adelia's investigation takes her into Cambridge's shadowy river paths and behind the closed doors of its churches and nunneries, the hunt intensifies and the killer prepares to strike again . .
Had Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael been born a few decades later, he might have found a worthy associate and friend in Dr. Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar of Salerno, a short and short-tempered medieval coroner hired in secret by King Henry II to find out who's behind the horrific murders of Christian children in Cambridge, England. Prominent local Jews stand accused; Henry wants them freed, mostly for the sake of their tax revenue. As Adelia examines the children's bodies and gets to know the people of Cambridge, she has no trouble assembling a long list of suspects, but she encounters considerable difficulty trying to narrow it down, a struggle in which the reader gladly joins her. Not all of the plot twists are surprising and the romantic subplot is an unnecessary afterthought, but Franklin (City of Shadows) has developed a skillful blend of historical fact and gruesome fiction that's more than sufficient to keep readers interested and entertained. (Feb.)
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February 05, 2007
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