Author of the Month

Name: Ariana Franklin

First Novel: City of Shadows

Most Recent Book: Mistress of the Art of Death

'There are definite echoes of Cadfael here…'

Dr Vesuvia Adelia, a medical coroner in Salerno, accompanies Simon of Naples to England to help his investigations into a recent spate of child killings. They come at the request of the English king Henry II who is concerned that the Jews of Cambridge have been unfairly blamed for the child murders. The subsequent imprisonment of the Jews is now having an adverse impact on state finances. The party from Salerno is accompanied by the eunuch Moor, Mansur, and as they enter Cambridge they find England, still reeling from the death of Thomas of Canterbury, a hotbed of intrigue and mutual suspicion.

One of Adelia’s first acts is to cure a prior of a prostate problem,which draws unwelcome attention to her skills as a doctor, which are likely to brand her as a witch in mediaeval England. However, she soon become immersed in the case of the dead children and uses her pathology skills to try and find the cause of their deaths. Prickly, and depressed at being forced to stay in this backward country, she finds the attention of the local tax collector, Sir Rowley Picot at first unwelcome then disturbingly enjoyable.

This is an excellent novel from a witty and innovative writer. The book’s principal strength is the characterisation of Adelia, an independent and educated female doctor who is forced to disguise her talents to fit in with the English notion of womanhood. There are echoes of Cadfael here in her characterisation, particularly in the way she uses her medical skills to find out the causes of death in a manner far advanced of medical orthodoxy of the time. However, the story could also be equally translated to a modern mystery featuring one of the many twentieth century female detectives, such is the strength of her characterisation.

The plotting is excellent, and both strands of the novel, the hunt for the brutal murderer of the children and Adelia’s emerging romance with Sir Rowley, are merged together very well. There are a number of twists and turns before the finale is reached and the reader is left guessing, as to the identity of the murderer and the outcome of the romance until the very end. An excellent read.

Reviewed by: S. W.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) As it slowly evolves and increases in popularity, crime fiction seems to be organically sub-dividing into a number of widely diverse categories. Which genre (or sub-genre, even…) of crime novel would you say you write in?
I'm not sure I fit any of the genres or sub-genres. I rather feel mine is the first in the genre of Forensic 12th century crime novels.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
Both, when they're well done. Donna Leon's is a cracking series and with a number of books it helps you get to know the protagonist.
3) What made you choose to set your book in the reign of Henry II? Did you have to do much research, particularly around the character of the king who appears in the book?
Henry II was one of the greatest Kings this country's ever had. He introduced Common Law and the Jury system. I did have to do tons of research, about 15 years of it, because I don't think it's fair to ask people to buy your book if you're not getting it just right.
4) You chose a woman as your main protagonist in a country that, in those days, was strongly regarded as the world of men. What attracted you to the dynamics of the people of England coming to terms with a woman who knew her own mind?
In fact there were outstanding women of that time, notably Eleanor of Acquitaine. Society was undoubtedly prejudiced but still appreciated someone extraordinary even if it be a female. Adelia has to take care because she could so easily be accused of witchcraft.
5) You portray Cambridge and its surrounding areas vividly and with affection for its waterways and people. Is this an area you know well?
Yes. I don't live far from Cambridge and the Fenland, before it was drained, was a fascinating area.
6) Are you planning any more books that will feature Adelia? Will she stay in England?
Yes, There's another due out next year and I'm writing the third at the moment. Adelia will stay in England but I would like her to make a temporary return to her home in Salerno at some point.
7) Without giving away the plot, which book - yours or by another author - included your favourite plot twist of all time?
I've long believed that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie contains the ultimate twist of any thriller.
8) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler with Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart.
9) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
Yes. Raymond Chandler raised crime fiction into the novel format and Donna Leon because she incorporates the city of Venice so well into the story.
10) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler.