This is that rare historical whodunnit – one which manages to have a female protagonist who really isn’t just a modern woman in fancy dress. It was a deserved winner of the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award.
The mistress of the art of death of the title is Adelia Aguilar, a medieval pathologist from Salerno. This is perfectly plausible as the Salerno medical school in 12th century when this novel is set, accepted women.
Children are being murdered in Cambridge and the local population have fixed on the obvious culprits, the local Jews. Cash-strapped Henry II is non too pleased as the Jews are responsible for generating much of his revenue. He sends to Salerno for assistance which comes in the reluctant form of Dr Aguilar who must then overcome local prejudice to identify the real killer.
This well written and pacey thriller had me turning the pages as fast as I could read them without once going near my historical howler button. Impeccable research, engaging characters and a deft plot make this a novel well worth reading.