Serpent's Tale
Ariana Franklin
Kate Reading,

(Books on Tape)
Well, I don't know about you, but I could scarcely leave the car while Serpent's Tale was going along in the CD player. Is it what we used to call a murder mystery? A romance novel? Historical fiction? A historical fiction/medieval murder mystery (according to Wikipedia)? Or one of those new fangled "forensic pathology pot-boilers" invented by the late Patricia Cornwell?

Whatever it is, it has to do with Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry Plantagenet, the murdered and martyred Thomas à Becket (who Henry may or may not have had murdered), and Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar. Adelia runs the show, specializes in medieval autopsies, is mistress to Rowley Picot, Bishop of St. Albans, appointed by Henry. Adelia studied medicine in Salerno, Sicily. They permitted women into higher learning in that country. She speaks Arabic with her castrato Mansur (in backwards medieval England, she has to pretend he is the doctor, she his mere translator). She has been called to the fens of Essex to find out who murdered good King Henry's mistress, Rosamund Clifford.

It is a rich mix of murder, rumination on women's place in 12th Century England, medical science, evil churchfolk, mercenaries, plots on the life and holdings of a king, the life of the poor nuns, and the cold and the snow there around Godstow Abbey.

God it's icy and dark ... will it never get warm? ... the Thames frozen over, the nuns and priests and mercenaries stamping around the grounds, the common folk shivering around the fires, being garroted and hung here and there ... and all the smells, even with the various soaps and perfumes, of bodies, and horse manure, and evil dumpings.

Adelia is fascinated by bodies, curious about what makes them tick, what makes them die. In fact, several scenes in Wormhold Tower we could have done without: Adelia and Eleanor or Adelia and the King ... along with the rotting body of Rosamund the Fair, murdered.

It does get on one nerves, especially after the Abbot of Eynsham forces the long-suffering Adelia (vomit!) atop the mouldering body ... alas, dear reader, I cannot go on...

Still, if you have interest in the customs and life in the dark, wind-battered, chillblained, anti-feminist wastes of 1180 Oxford (where they eventually end up), you'll love this one. This Books on Tape edition is a killer, in the best sense of the word, especially when Reading the Reader dips into the speeches of Gyltha the eel-seller and the other low-lifes all around Adelia, along with the miserable, long-suffering Englishfolk of medieval Essex.

--- Lolita Lark
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