CSI meets The Canterbury Tales.
After an unexceptional debut (City of Shadows, 2006), Franklin hits commercial paydirt with this criminal investigation drama set in 12th-century England. Led by “doctor to the dead” Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar—Adelia for short—the trio also includes Simon of Naples (“agent, investigator, go-between, reconnoitrer, spy”) and Mansur, Adelia’s bodyguard and servant, who is also a Muslim and a eunuch. Trained at the Salerno School of Medicine, Adelia is a brilliant forensic pathologist, but in superstitious England she risks denunciation as a witch. The three are commanded, however—by whom is a mystery—to investigate the brutal murder of four children in Cambridge, deaths that are being blamed on the Jews, whose resultant persecution is disrupting society and business. Adelia’s scrutiny of the corpses hints at a serial killer with a taste for mutilation and woven quincunxes. Other clues suggest the culprit may be among the latest group of pilgrims to have returned from Canterbury, although a couple of crusaders, including burly tax collector Sir Rowley Picot, also fall under suspicion. Then Simon is murdered and Adelia finds an unexpected ally in Sir Rowley, who reveals he has been pursuing a child-murderer. Softened by Simon’s death, Adelia also realizes she is falling for Sir Rowley. After pestilence at the convent and the kidnapping of Ulf, the housekeeper’s son, there’s a showdown on Wandlebury Hill and the villain is torn to pieces by a pack of hounds. Patchy pacing and anachronisms aside, Franklin has devised an appealing amalgam of genres. The second Adelia story already has a title and plot.
A potentially winning formula, delivered with panache.