A Murderous Procession
G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 2010, 337 pp.
When Ariana Franklin's first book in this series, Mistress of the Art of Death, first came out, many people criticized her heroine for somehow "not being of the period", which was the latter half of the 12th century. This, BTW, was roughly just before the Third Crusade started, but that's another story.Ms. Franklin, whose real name is Diana Norman, and who has written books -- all historical, under her own name, seems to me to be quite well-versed in the century and the people she's writing about. And her feisty heroine, who solves cases through "the art of death", namely what we would now call forensic science, remains delightfully feisty.
Many, though fortunately not all, authors who write in and of various periods we call "medieval" tend to shy away from having central characters who are women, unless they are writing romances. Usually, though, romances set in historical periods tend not to be long on accuracy, and sometimes this is glaringly obvious. Ariana Franklin is a welcome exception to this(though there are a couple of others I can think of. She is also, in my opinion, a happy exception to the trend for writing medieval mysteries with monk or nun detectives. To me, monastic life in the Middle Ages is at best, only mildly interesting. Perhaps this is my background, which didn't include much in the way of r"religious" training, but I don't know. In any case, I'm glad Adelia has an interesting, but believable background(n the context of her time)., and, almost as delightful to me, are her struggles to somehow carry out a place for herself that allows her reasonable independence, yet give her some security in life. In her other books, it is obvious she has made sacrifices, including marriage to a man she really cares about, but who ends up headed for a bishopric.It's obvious he cares for her, too, though he doesn't make a huge number of appearances.
Like all good detective heroes and heroines, Adelia is kind of an outsider. An orphan raised by a couple , one of whom is Jewish and the other Christian, and given an education unusual even in the rather liberal Sicily of her time, she gets caught up in the politics of a completely -- to her -- foreign country, thanks to the wishes and needs of the formidable King Henry II, and she keeps ending up working on mysteries for him. A Murderous Procession is no exception, as this story deals with Adelia's travails when ordered to accompany Henry's ten year old daughter Joanna, to marry the ruler of Sicily. From practically the moment she joins the "procession", murder and mayhem ensue in various forms, and she becomes increasingly aware that a murderous figure from her recent past may be involved in some way. Of course, like all good mysteries, there are plenty of hints along the way, and everything is more or less revealed at the end. I also like the way Ms. Franklin has (sort of) used both Arthurian themes(her last mystery was set in and around Glastonbury Abbey, where the monks there claimed to have dug up the bones of Arthur and Guinevere, and, along with the stories then circulating and very popular with everyone, , got the legends really rolling. She also hints a bit at Robin Hood as well; this comes out more in A Murderous Procession, but she never lets the legendary overwhelm her story. It is a mystery, first and foremost, and an engaging one at that.
Some readers and writers may disagree with my assessment. I myself was afraid that this third book in the series might be a letdown. Endless series often are. They just get stale after a while. Fortunately, I can say, after having read the book, that this has not happened with A Murderous Procession. For this reason, I continue to recommend her Adelia books, and look forward to the next one, whenever it comes out.