Adelia Aguilar is a medical doctor in the court of Henry Plantagenet. It is 1176 and Henry’s 10-year-old daughter with Eleanor of Aquitaine, Joanna, will be making a perilous journey through Europe during a time of wars, Catholic persecution and plagues. Joanna is betrothed to William of Sicily, a political tactic to ensure loyalty and peace on Henry’s southern flank. Henry has chosen Adelia, a native Sicilian and the only real doctor at his disposal, to safeguard Joanna en route to the wedding. In order to ensure Adelia’s return, Henry places her 9-year-old daughter in the care of the imprisoned Eleanor.
In A Murderous Procession, Ariana Franklin sets the scene for adventure and mayhem and serves up an impressive amount of both. A psychopath travels with the entourage, bent on exacting retribution for the death of his rapacious outlaw lover. The sword Excalibur, discovered by Adelia and presented to the king, accompanies them as a gift to the King of Sicily. Along on the journey are Adelia’s lover Rowley, the father of her child, and a puzzling sea captain with his own motives to subvert the outcome of the trip.
People begin to die and Adelia diagnoses murder, not accident. Then she becomes suspect as a dark enchantress; someone is setting her up for a heinous crime. As disasters dog the expedition, slowing progress and keeping Adelia from returning to England and her child, various of Henry’s sons make their appearances, Joanna proves to be a resilient and affable child, and Adelia reluctantly accepts that her life is in danger and that she may never make it home.
The subterfuge essential to maintaining respectability involves Mansur, an Arab eunuch posing as the doctor to cover for Adelia who is forbidden to practice medicine because she is a woman. The princess’ ladies-in-waiting are a flitty, venomous lot, with one useful exception. The intricate strategy that implicates Adelia in the disturbing deaths that slow and frighten the procession is a net that tightens around her. The threat of burning at the stake is all too real and the travelers fall victim to lethal physical ills that nearly wipe out the entourage.
Characters in A Murderous Procession are complex and interesting. Adelia is a likable and real protagonist and her companions are fully drawn and believable. The descriptions of the towns, countryside and people encountered by the royal party are as compelling as the plot. And the Church, with its backward clergy and horrifying consequences, is wickedly depicted and as dangerous as the madman biding his time to commit his final crime.
Ariana Franklin has written an entertaining murder mystery with a credible historical setting that is woven seamlessly into the plot. A Murderous Procession, second in the series A Mistress in the Art of Death, is a perfect escape book. I will definitely place the first novel on hold at the library to see what led to the challenges Adelia encounters in this one—and to slip back into her world for the space of a few pleasant hours.
A Murderous Procession Ariana Franklin | G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2010