A Murderous Procession

Franklin, Ariana

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn
  • Date of entry: Jan-04-2012


In 1176, King Henry the II of England persuades the physician Adelia Aguilar to accompany his daughter, Princess Joanna, on her long journey from England to marry the King of Sicily. Adelia studied medicine in Salerno, but in the disbelieving, intolerant world of Northern Europe, she must hide her skills. She masquerades as the assistant of her own eunuch assistant, the Arab Mansur.  Her task is to protect and preserve the health of the princess. The King convinces her to make the journey by holding Adelia’s own infant daughter as a hostage.

The procession is troubled by a murderer, who could be trying to attack the princess or her doctor. Joanna falls ill, and Adelia diagnoses appendicitis, and then performs an operation to save her life. The question then arises whether or not her future husband will accept a bride with a surgical scar.

As in the other three novels, Adelia also uses her medical skills to solve the murders—a forensic pathologist avant la lettre. 



“Murderous Procession” is the fourth and last in the “Mistress of the Art of Death” series. Written quickly –one each a year--at the end of the career of writer-journalist, Diana Norman, they feature adventure stories centering on murder mysteries. 

The character of Adelia is an intriguing device for raising interest in the history of medieval medicine, and for highlighting the differences between Mediterranean cultural practices and those of more northerly traditions.

While the melodrama is engaging, the plausibility of the stories sometimes wears a bit thin. In this particular novel, the dramatic, life-saving operation on an inflamed appendix does not ring true. The anatomical problem was not conceived until the early nineteenth century. Surgery to fix it, had to wait till later in the same century following the advent of anesthesia and antisepsis. In a note (p. 380), the author recognized the liberty that she took and wrote an argument to justify it.

This anachronism could constitute an interesting talking point, not only about the specific example of appendicectomy, but also more generally about the boundaries of anachronism in historical writing.


Ariana Franklin is the pen name of author-journalist Diana Norman.


G. P. Putnam

Place Published

New York



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