The Death Maze/The Serpent’s Tale

Written by Ariana Franklin
Review by Marina Oliver


Fair Rosamund Clifford was Henry II’s mistress, and she was buried in Goldstow Priory, near Oxford. These are established facts. She is surrounded by legends but none of these surfaced until over a hundred years after her death. They may have been based on folk memory but there is no proof. She could have lived at Woodstock, one of Henry’s favourite manors, and he may well have made her a bower (or tower?) there. In Robert of Gloucester’s Chronicles he says, ‘Boures had this Rosamunde.’ The protective maze and Queen Eleanor’s supposed part in her death are much later and improbable additions to the legends.

The paucity of fact enables historical novelists to imagine and invent the rest, even to substitute fictional characters in place of the real ones. Ariana Franklin, in doing this, has created an intriguing, clever and richly detailed detective novel, the second to feature the female doctor, Adelia. Her former lover, now Bishop of St Albans, wants her to discover the murderer of Rosamund, absolving the Queen, who, with her sons, is quarrelling with Henry and thereby preventing another civil war.

Set against the background of a hard winter, when a second murderer is on the loose and many characters, for most of the time, snowbound in Godstow, it is an absorbing, if at times gruesome story. Adelia is an attractive heroine, a refreshingly blunt, irreverent and independent sleuth who is reluctant at first to be involved, but she becomes determined to discover the truth about both murders.

Ariana Franklin’s first novel featuring Adelia won the Crime Writers’ Association Ellis Peters Historical Award in 2007. As Diana Norman she has previously published several much-acclaimed historical novels.