Monday, February 6, 2012

Mistress of the Art of Writing

Three or four years ago, when my family was away on vacation, my husband, who loves to troll our library's discarded-books shelf for treasures, reached into his suitcase and handed me a book he thought I'd like.  It was called "Mistress of the Art of Death: a Novel," by someone named Ariana Franklin, and the cover illustration was of a woman's clasped hands resting comfortably on a skull.  I don't often read mysteries, but I figured I'd give this one a try.  WHOOMPH!! It wasn't a book, it was a time machine!  Before I knew what had hit me, I was sucked into 12th-century England, when King Henry II, a man centuries ahead of his time, decided that he needed to borrow the finest scientific/medical mind in Europe to solve a desperate puzzle.  Alas, that mind turned out to belong to a woman, Adelia Aguilar, a young graduate of the University of Salerno, the only school in the civilized world that would have admitted her.  Adelia was a mistress of the art of death - or, as one would call someone like her today, a pathologist.  She couldn't have existed in the midst of the Dark Ages, not even with a devoted Arab eunuch manservant to shadow her and converse with her in Arabic and perpetuate the ruse that he was the real doctor, and she merely his assistant.  But, here on the pages I couldn't stop turning, she was as real as anyone I'd ever met, and so were most of the other people in her utterly credible world.  The murder mystery itself was, to me, the least interesting part of the book.  I couldn't get enough of Adelia, a cranky, brilliant, rude, impossible 21st-century woman born 900 years too soon, or of the uncanny feeling of having been bodily transported to her setting.  It didn't hurt, either, that somewhere during the course of the book Adelia angrily discovered that she and the dashing Rowland Picot were falling madly in love.
     I didn't have a laptop with me on vacation, but when I got home I googled Ariana Franklin and discovered that she didn't exist either.  It was a pen name for Diana Norman, a Brit who had dropped out of school at 15, become a reporter for a local paper at 17, and then, at 20, the youngest reporter on Fleet Street.  She married Barry Norman, a fellow journalist turned film critic, and stayed in the biz until after their two daughters were born, after which she produced 11 historical novels and three nonfiction books under her own name.  Then, in 2006, at the age of 70 or so, she switched gears.  She began to write historical mysteries, and she became Ariana Franklin for that purpose.
     I learned, to my joy, that there was a sequel: "The Serpent's Tale," which of course I immediately ordered.  Now Adelia was a single mother, and things with Rowland had gotten very complicated (not least by the fact that the king had appointed him a bishop), but of course there was a new serial killer for Adelia to track down by, as the villagers would say, speaking with the dead.  Having become a fullblown Adelia addict, I had to wait impatiently for the third book, "Grave Goods," to come out, and then I had to preorder and wait for "A Murderous Procession."  But the wait was bearable, almost pleasurable in a way, because I knew that Ariana Franklin seemed to manage to produce one book in the series each year.  So even though this fourth book left Adelia and Rowland in perhaps their direst straits yet, I knew that they would find their way out, only to wind up back in some other delightfully scary kind of trouble.
     I kept checking periodically for the next installment, and that was how I found out that on January 27, 2011, Diana Norman and Ariana Franklin had both died.  I felt shock, grief, rage.  How could she (they) have just left Adelia hanging like this?  How could I deal with never knowing what would become of her?  For about eight seconds, I had the insane idea that I would take over where Ariana had left off, continue the series for her, bring Adelia and Rowland and the rest of the crew back to vivid, turbulent life.  But of course, then I realized that I couldn't.  I'm not a genius.  I'm not Ariana Franklin.  Now, no one is.  All I can do is try to honor her, on this slightly belated yahrzeit, and hope that by writing about her, I can create a few more Adelia addicts in the world.  Maybe they'll have it easier than I did, knowing from the start that there will never be a fifth book.  I love you, Ariana Franklin.

1 comment:

  1. I know I'm several years behind but I too am greatly saddened by the loss of this amazing author. I have known about her death since it happened but I haven't yet accepted that she will never finish the series. I think it's an amazing tribute to how much her fans loved her that no fifth book has been written. However, if someone (like you) did decide to carry on with Adelia's tale, then I would most certainly read it and consider it an appropriate tribute to Mrs. Norman. If you ever do decide to write it, please let me know! Thank you for your words! A side note, I am reading A Winter Siege right now and am quite enjoying it! Maybe her daughter will take up where Mrs. Norman left off with Adelia and Rowley!