The Serpent’s Tale by Ariana Franklin

The Serpent’s Tale by Ariana Franklin.  Here is the first nominee for my 2008 Book of the Year list.  Although I enjoyed her first mystery featuring forensic doctor Adelia Aguilar, Mistress of the Art of Death, this story of the poisoning of Henry II’s mistress, Rosamund Clifford, is much, much better.  Henry has refused to let Adelia return to her native Sicily, so she has settled with her baby daughter, Allie, her new maid, Gyltha, and her trusty Muslim protector, Mansur, outside Cambridge.  Rosamund’s death is laid at the feet of Henry’s estranged wife, Eleanor, who has recently escaped imprisonment in one of the royal castles in Aquataine and has traveled to England to help lead a revolt with her son.  Henry requests that Adelia travel in the middle of winter to Oxford to investigate the situation.  Soon, everyone is trapped by deep snow in a convent outside the city.  This includes the queen herself, several courtiers, two unhappy bands of mercenaries, one arrogant, bullying Lord Wolvercote, Adelia and her group, and the assassin.

The main plot and sub-plots in this second story are quite complex, with several excellent twists right until the very end.  The inclusion of Henry and Eleanor makes for a much more richly layered tale.  This is the type of mystery that draws you in so thoroughly that you won’t want to put it down and do anything else.  I haven’t had that experience and sensation in a while and it felt so good.

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