That was how I described The Death Maze, the second book in the series by the late Ariana Franklin concerning Adelia Aguilar, the first female anatomist. So, in my typical timely manner, nineteen months and a bit late, I get round to Mistress of the Art of Death, the book that introduces the character and her band of merry followers. Hurrah for ‘Nother Chance November.
Children are being murdered in horrific ways in the vicinity of Cambridge and the local villagers are blaming the Jews. So much so that two are executed and the rest isolated in the castle. Fearing a massive loss of taxation, King Henry II sends for help. Enter, from Salerno, Adelia Aguilar, Mansur and Simon, a team of investigators – Simon being the sleuth, Adelia the pathologist and Mansur the muscle, and also the shield that Adelia has to hide her talents behind. But as they become accepted into the Cambridge community, it seems that the killer, the hideous Rakshasa, has not finished his deadly business… and it seems that he has set his sights beyond mere children…
OK, let’s go through the tick boxes. The characters, in particular the leads and their friends are very well presented. We get an insight into most of them at times, Adelia most of all, obviously, and clearly Franklin has put a lot of thought into the development of them. The setting is also vivid, and the fear in the darkness, the Rakshasa, is pretty terrifying at times – in particular in the chapter when one character describes how he chased the killer across Europe.
There’s a “but” coming, you can tell, can’t you?
While The Death Maze was a decent little mystery, this isn’t. It doesn’t try to be, to be honest. Instead, it’s a medieval thriller. Imagine if you will one of those nasty serial killer books that I occasionally bang on about transposed to a medieval setting, and you’ve got the plot of this book. OK, to be fair, we don’t have the killer’s point of view sections that usually make me stop reading, but this isn’t what I consider a mystery. It’s an investigation into who is the local repellant nutjob, and it’s a guessing game. Indeed, while Adelia works out where to find the killer, she doesn’t have a clue who it is until… well, that’ll be a spoiler so I won’t mention that bit. But really, I didn’t think there was enough plot to fill 500+ pages. I found it slow to start, picking up the pace around page 200, but then felt very let down by the ending. And, as in the second book, although I did enjoy Henry II sauntering in to put the world to rights, it does seem rather uncharacteristic of a monarch’s behaviour.
The setting and characters give it plus points, but, after The Death Maze giving me hope in the existence of the decent historical mystery, I was really disappointed by this one. While I’ll be back for the third installment at some point, I don’t think I can recommend this one very highly. Read The Death Maze instead – because I think if I’d read this one first, I wouldn’t have made it to the second, much better, book.