Review Blog

Jan 16 2012

Relics of the dead by Ariana Franklin

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Bantam Books, 2009. ISBN 978 0553820324.
(Age: Senior school) Highly recommended. Crime, Medieval.1176 and bones have been discovered at the Abbey at Glastonbury, one is small in stature, the other larger, like a warrior. In a country in turmoil, with the Welsh trying to hold back Henry 11 of England, the idea that these bones are those of the Once and Future King, Arthur and his wife Guineverre, is enough to give strength to the Welsh cause. Henry 11 wants them identified preferably not as those of the king, Arthur and Guineverre, but the monks, in desperate straits, want a reason for people to make pilgrimage to their abbey, desperately short of funds. Into this maelstrom of conflicting interests, Henry 11 sends Adeliar Agular, his 'mistress of the art of death', to find out exactly whose bones they are. She in turn is angry that he has once again been able to circumvent her own wishes and send her on this perilous mission, one in which she is yet again exposed to the whims of the men in her life.
A fascinating story follows, firmly entrenched in its setting of the medieval township and abbey, with wholly credible characters moving around each other, often belligerently, sometimes with love and understanding, but always capturing the readers' interest and eagerness for the story to unfold.
Adelia is a wonderful character, a trained doctor in a time where few had scant knowledge, and women not at all, she must move about England with her trusted servant, Mansur, a Moor, to whom in public she defers, taking on the role as his translator to defray knowledge of her abilities. Added to this problem, she has a daughter, and the father of this child, Adelia's former lover, is now the Bishop of St Albans, who regularly intrudes on her life.
This the third in the series of books about Adelia, is a book to savour and keep to reread. Its setting is masterful, the attitudes and lifestyle of the times impeccably revealed, and the crime to be unravelled, complex and involving. Ariana Franklin, the British author, Diana Noonan, died in 2011. Her marvellous creation, Adelia has lived through four books, Mistress of the art of death (2007), The death maze (2008), Relics of the dead (2009) and a fourth, A murderous procession (2010).
Fran Knight

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