In a field crowded cheek-by-jowl with history mysteries and historical detectives, Ariana Franklin managed to create a true original in Adelia Aguilar. Adelia is an orphaned, Italian-trained physician sent to the backwater of 12th-century England to serve Henry II; a king famous for being married to Eleanor of Aquitaine, and infamous for his throwaway line, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” which led to the murder of Thomas Beckett.
Franklin enjoyed writing Adelia, the bright, tempestuous, eccentric and educated detective, whose skills are so advanced that they resemble magic to the English populace, and she comes perilously close to being convicted of witchcraft more than once; but Franklin loved Henry II. She brought a true historian’s ardor to the study of her fictionalized Henry. He is the most compelling character in the four books, even more compelling than Adelia’s lover and Adelia herself. In Mistress of the Art of Death, The Serpent’s Tail, and Grave Goods, she limns a sharp-eyed, tolerant, shrewd and brilliant monarch who is hampered by his people’s superstitions and the enmity of a powerful and corrupt Catholic church.
Diana Norman, who wrote these books under the pen-name of Franklin, passed away in January, 2011. She was married to the British film critic Barry Norman and left behind two grown daughters.
She was 77 years old.
I am sad that she is gone, but I am pleased that she left behind this quartet of novels, (the fourth is A Murderous Procession). She wrote novels under her own name that I look forward to reading too. She gave us a lot in the past ten years; I am saddened, and grateful.