Monday, November 09, 2009


As my contribution to this week's Crime Fiction Alphabet meme at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise I have chosen F is for Franklin.

Ariana not Ben.

Historical crime fiction novels need an intriguing plot, interesting characters, credible dialogue, period accuracy and the right atmosphere. The further you go back in time it appears to be more difficult to be able to create the right ambience for a crime story, or it would seem so.
Of the thirty books shortlisted over the last five years for the Ellis Peters, an award named for the writer who created medieval mysteries featuring Brother Cadfael, a 12th century Welsh Benedictine monk, only two are set in the Medieval period.

The thirty on those shortlists 2005-2009 also include three set in the Tudor period by C.J.Sansom, and one in the 17th century, all the rest are have 19th or 20th century settings.

Ariana Franklin, married to film critic Barry Norman, is a former Fleet Street journalist, and a meticulous researcher into the Early Medieval Period; she is another female crime writer with a first name beginning with the letter A who spent her early years in the seaside town of Torquay.

Ariana Franklin is the only writer to have won the Ellis Peters award who sets her books in the Medieval period. She won in 2007 with Mistress of the Art of Death in which she introduced us to her 12th century forensic pathologist Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar. She was shortlisted in 2008 for the sequel The Death Maze, and her most recent book in the series Relics of the Dead, is set in Glastonbury.

The technique of using a heroine from a strange world, where dissection of bodies and even women are accepted in the great medical school in Salerno, allows the author to explain English medieval society to the reader at the same time as Adelia learns about this foreign and to her fairly backward land.

'I am a doctor of Salerno. You will show me respect.'

The books are full of interesting facts and very strong characters including the historical Henry II, Rowley Picot Bishop of St Albans Adelia's lover, and Adelia herself. If you want to read something a bit different, with a feisty female heroine, while at the same time learning a lot of history I can recommend these books.

Below are my reviews:

The Death Maze [A Serpent's Tale in the USA]
Relics of the Dead [Grave Goods in the USA]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Ariana Franklin with us, Norman. It's always really nice to learn a little about the people "behind the fiction." I like historical mysteries, too, when they're done with an eye to accuracy, so I'm impressed with the amount of "homework" Franklin obviously does.

6:21 AM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

"...only two are set in the Medieval period." I hadn't noticed that. Your post moved me to have a look at the shortlists for the prize since 1999, and that left me a little uncomfortable, but that's just me -- I think I reflexively started to distinguish between novels set in the past and historical novels, and that's not a consideration for those who decide these things. But one thing did strike me on the mediaeval front -- the absence of Peter Tremayne. There we have a fine crime novelist who is also a very accomplished mediaevalist, but while he is much-garlanded for his work as the latter in the history of Ireland and Cornwall, I can't find evidence of any nomination or award he's received for crime fiction. There's not normally much point in singling out writers in this way, but I do this time because this does strike me as, at the least, a significant oversight. There are books not nearly as good on those short lists. Perhaps one day. Much recommended to anyone who hasn't chanced upon him.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Talking about a sense of history, I did my best not to laugh today when I asked some of my students to include a discussion of The Bell Curve in their presentation. "Oh, is that Alexander Graham Bell?" one of the girls asked.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

That is a surprise in view of the attention his Sister Fidelma books have received, and the Irish theme has got to help sales.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Kerrie said...

Thanks for this contribution Norman and the info about Ariana Franklin. I do like the cover too.

12:52 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I agree Kerrie that cover was much prettier than the American cover which from memory featured a skull.

2:08 AM  
Blogger gautami tripathy said...

I am learning so much about Authors and books via this meme. Thanks for posting this.

Here is my Crime Fiction Alphabet: F post!

6:05 AM  

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