by Lynne Patrick
Historical crime fiction lost a late-flowering gem when Ariana Franklin died in 2011.
Until 2006 she was better known as Diana Norman, the author of well-researched historical novels without the crime element – and perhaps, though unfairly, better still as the wife of journalist, film critic and TV presenter Barry Norman, whose face was the one everyone recognized when they arrived in Cambridge one year to take part in Bodies in the Bookshop, Heffers bookstore’s annual celebration of the crime genre. I clearly recall the flurry of interest which ran through the crowded shop; many people hadn’t connected the face from the television with one of crime fiction’s newer names, and wondered why he was there. He made it very clear that he was only the support act; the real star of the evening was Ariana.
As both Diana Norman and Ariana Franklin, and before her marriage as Diana Narracott, she was very much her own person. She followed her father into journalism when she was only seventeen, and was headhunted by a national paper at twenty.
After missing her own twenty-first birthday party because her editor sent her to cover a murder in Southampton, she built a career which took her all over the world – and then gave it up to write fiction, partly because history had always fascinated her, partly because it was more compatible with marriage to another journalist and being a mother to two girls – but mainly because it was fun.
It wasn’t until 2006 that she embarked on a life of (historical) crime, and sad to report, it turned out to be a brief one. City of Shadows took as its subject a plot to pass off a psychiatric patient as the enigmatic Romanov princess Anastasia.
Mediaeval England was always her favourite historical period, and Mistress of the Art of Death, the first outing for Adelia Aguilar, a twelfth century medical examiner, not only won the Ellis Peters Dagger for Ariana in 2007, but also gained plaudits from academic historians for the accuracy of the background. Ariana’s response to this was, ‘If a reader pays you the compliment of buying your book, you’ve got to get it right.’
She was always surprised when her books turned the spotlight on to her. ‘I’m not used to being feted, being married to a TV presenter,’ she said. ‘I’m more accustomed to being trampled in the rush to get his autograph.’
Throughout her career as a novelist she fought the good fight on behalf of women. Her historical fiction charts the battle for equality through the ages, and when she looked for another challenge and decided on a series of historical thrillers, she chose a protagonist who inhabits a world women wouldn’t normally dream of entering.
There were just three more novels charting the career of Adelia Aguilar: The Serpent’s Tale (published in the USA as The Death Maze); Relics of the Dead (Grave Goods in the USA); A Murderous Procession (USA edition The Assassin’s Prayer). It proved a brief series, but a popular one. As well as the Ellis Peters Dagger and other international awards for the first, the series won the Dagger in the Library for Ariana in 2010. Sadly, there were to be no more.