Saturday, 12 September 2015
The Death Maze by Ariana Franklin
aka The Serpent’s Tale
The glow of the taper fell on a bed against the northerly wall. Exquisite white lace swept from a gilded rondel in the ceiling to part over pillows and fall on either side of a gold-tasselled coverlet. It was a high and magnificent bed, with a tiny, ivory set of steps places so that its owner might be assisted to reach it.
Nobody was in it.
Its owner was sitting at a writing table opposite, facing a window, a pen in her hand.
Adelia, her taper now vibrating a little, saw the glancing facets of a jewelled crown and ash-blonde hair curling from it down the writer’s back…
She took off her glove to touch the figure’s unexpectedly large shoulder… She saw a white, white hand, its plump wrist braceleted with skin, like a baby’s. Thumb and forefinger were supporting a goose quill.
observations: I’ve only just discovered Ariana Franklin – see the recent blogpost on Mistress of the Art of Death here – and despite having a pile of other books to read I rushed on to the next in the series, which I also very much enjoyed. The story of Rosamond Clifford, mistress to Henry II, is an extraordinary one – very very little is known for certain about her, and much mystery surrounds her death, so the ideal subject for a historical crime novel.
The first part of the book is terrifying and creepy, describing a trip across England in a fierce snowstorm to reach the tower where Rosamund lives. The journey is a tour de force of weather description, atmosphere, relationships and violence. The group do not know what they will find (though Adelia fears the worst) and even when they reach the tower their troubles are not over.
Rosamund is dead, and the circumstances of both her death and what happened to the corpse are feverishly weird. Did Eleanor of Aquitaine – legitimate wife to Henry II – kill her, and is the country going to be plunged back into the civil war that nearly destroyed it some years before?
Adelia tries to solve the crime, while she and her party and most of the local villagers are trapped in a convent blockaded in by snow.
There were the same problems with this book as the previous one – unlikely attitudes, and playing fast and loose with some aspects of history. But: I just enjoyed it, hugely, it was a compulsive page-turner, and I like reading about the relationship between Adelia and Rowley.
Franklin’s contention that the Fair Rosamund (famously beautiful) was fat is fascinating: it was a nice startling moment, though there is no indication where the author got that from.
I ripped through this one, and will most certainly be going on to the 3rd book in the series.
Henry II and Eleanor featured in previous blog entries.
The pictures are 19th and 20th Century versions of the Fair Rosamund: one by Arthur Hughes, one by John William Waterhouse.