Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Novice's Tale by Margaret Frazer


It is the year of Our Lord's grace 1431, and the nuns of England's St. Frideswide sweetly chant their Paternosters behind gracious, trellised walls. But their quiet lives are shattered by the unwelcome visit of the hard-drinking, blaspheming dowager Lady Ermentrude, with her retinue of lusty maids and men, baying hounds, and even a pet monkey in tow. The lady demands wine, a feast, and a her niece, the frail and saintly novice Thomasine.

What she gets is her own strange and sudden death.

Sister Frevisse, hosteler of the priory and amateur sleuth, fears murder. The most likely suspect is a pious Thomasine... but Frevisse alone detects a clever web spun to entangle an innocent nun in the most unholy of passions - and the deadliest of deeds.

I've heard so much about this series that I couldn't resist reading this one when it arrived. I really like medieval stories and it's been a while since I read a medieval mystery. This one is part of the Sister Frevisse series. Sister Frevisse is a sleuthing nun from St. Frideswide convent.

As the story begins they receive the visit of Lady Ermentrude, a demanding woman who likes to feast and drink and whose great niece Thomasine is preparing to take her vows. Soon after arriving Lady Ermentrude leaves on a visit to Thomasine's sister Isobel and her husband and returns the next day wanting to get Thomasine out of the priory. She presents a very loud and erratic behaviour seemingly at first that she is drunk but soon it becomes apparent that she is terribly sick and she soon dies.

Almost immediately the word is out that poison was what really killed her and it seems Thomasine is the one with the biggest motive as she didn't want to leave the priory. Unwilling to believe Thomasine is guilty Sister Frevisse has to think fast before Lady Ermentrude's son manages to take the novice to be tried.

I particularly liked how the plot was written. There are several clues along the way and I suspected who the killer might be in the second half of the story but the why eluded me till the end. Although the story is entirely set in the priory the day's political events are mentioned as Frevisse receives the visit of her uncle Thomas Chaucer (Geoffrey Chaucer's son) who is a very well connected character. I also enjoyed Frevisse's vision of the world, a bit more worldly then some of her sister's and what we are usually used to and Domina Edith, the prioress and Dame Claire who takes care of the medical part.

A nice and cosy story without loose ends and with the detective explaining everything in the end (in a way it reminded me of Agatha Christie's Poirot).

Grade: B

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