Wednesday, December 14, 2011

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: A Play of Heresy by Margaret Frazer

Although this book came out at just the right time to be a perfect Christmas present (just like last year's release of A Play of Piety), I was far too impatient to wait a couple more weeks. I bought it for myself, then sat down and read it. I’m addicted to the "A Joliffe the Player Mystery" series.

Margaret Frazer’s A Play of Heresy continues the story of Joliffe, part-time player (actor) and part-time spy for the powerful Bishop Beaufort. As this instalment opens in the early summer of 1438, Joliffe is looking forward to a little well-earned respite from his spying duties. He’s returning to his company of players who are in Coventry for the Corpus Christi festival – a festival of plays. Each of the guilds sponsors a different religious-themed play and vies to put on the best production. While locals play most of the parts, they often bring in ringers to direct and perform, in order to boost their chances of outdoing the competition. Joliffe’s friends are well-employed by the tailors’ guild.

Unfortunately, as Joliffe is making his way to Coventry, he comes upon a friend of a different sort, another spy for the bishop. This man is perturbed because an informant whom he was supposed to have met in Bristol was lost somewhere between Coventry and the assigned meeting place. The spy is quite certain he’s dead and that Lollards, religious malcontents/heretics, are to blame. Since Joliffe is on his way to Coventry, he is assigned the task of investigating things at that end.

And so begins another intricately woven tale of murder, intrigue, love, and human failing. Joliffe gets to do the things he does best: work in theater and solve murders while pondering philosophical questions of life. I find Frazer’s style, the voice of her characters, to be original and pure pleasure to read. The historical details are always rich, bringing me fully into the world. And besides, I’m head-over-heels in love with the protagonist and have been since book one.

The book would stand alone as an interesting murder mystery, but I think you’re cheating yourself to read it this way. I’d really recommend starting with A Play of Isaac and reading through the series. Much of the entertainment of these books comes from the unfolding of Joliffe’s character. His interactions with his fellow players is more deeply appreciated also if you know what’s come before. What is here is fine for plotting and enough for carrying the story, but you won’t get the full emotional depth of the experience.

Now I’ll join the other "Joliffe the Player" addicts to ask: How long must we wait for book 8?

1 comment:

  1. "A Play of Heresy" is one of the stronger entries in the Joliffe mystery series. The author uses medieval Coventry and its play cycle -- or what is known about it -- as the backdrop for Joliffe's sleuthing. Pageant wagons, Lollards, and intrigue combine into a great read. Highly recommend!

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