Margaret Frazer, A Play of Treachery

Posted January 24, 2012 by Kathy Davie in

A Play of Treachery (Joliffe, #5)A Play of Treachery by Margaret Frazer
Series: Joliffe, 5
My rating: 6 of 5 stars

Fifth in the Joliffe medieval mystery series revolving around an actor/writer turned spy for the Bishop Beaufort. This story takes place in Rouen, France in early 1436.

My Take

I loved how Frazer pulled the origins of the Woodville family into this story. Sigh…young love that began a dynasty. I also love the political scheming and its back-and-forth, but I do miss the banter between the players. Still, Joliffe does get to be a part of the doings of the high and mighty. He also begins to discover what he considers “home”; Joliffe is looking forward to finishing this assignment and getting back to his family of players.

Frazer really seems to know what what she’s writing about in the culture, the dress, the manners, and the politics, let alone the architecture of buildings from great to small. If you enjoy medieval tales, you don’t want to miss Frazer with her so-clever pen as she takes us back in time.

It’s odd, I always think of New Zealand as having begun with the English and in this story, I find myself wondering just how this country did get its name when Zealand was a state on the west coast of Europe that was later absorbed into the Netherlands?

Joliffe gets to keep his hand in when he pens a psychomachia (medieval allegorical play) of Sins against Virtues—a true struggle as he must stay within his role as the timid, not-too-bright John Ripon. I must say, just “listening” to Joliffe thinking over all the possibilities was driving me mad. I kept waiting for him to get out some paper and write it all down just to keep it straight in his own head! It certainly makes me appreciate how cheap paper is today…let alone having a computer to cut-and-paste words.

I would like to read more about John, Duke of Bedford. He sounds as though he was quite the enlightened man for his time. Canny at politics and war and interested in education.

The Story

It’s been a prosperous year and a good holiday season for the Lovell Players, partly due to that scheming Bishop Beaufort (see A Play of Lords). Still, they are footless and fancy-free on the road. Until the peddler catches up with them. It seems the bishop is keeping the players under his eye and now he’s calling in his marker for Joliffe’s services.

Basset and company are reimbursed for losing Joliffe’s services—for the next SIX months! For Joliffe is heading to Rouen in France to play secretary and learn how to be a spy as John Ripon, the widowed Lady Jacquetta’s English secretary. Lessons in the various ways to kill a person, maps, and ciphers. Additional drama flares up with the young king’s letters to Zealand inciting them to rebel while the murder of one of the court brings it all to a head.

Joliffe also causes respect to blossom on their part for his own skills in playing a role when he helps to rescue a hunted spy as well as his detecting abilities as he identifies spies on both sides, solves a murder that never needed it, and discovers a desperately hidden secret.

The Characters

Joliffe Southwell, a.k.a., John Ripon, the writer for Basset’s troupe as well as an actor, has wandering feet and the role of a player has suited him right to the ground. However, Joliffe has always hankered after the knowing of things as well and when the Bishop provides the opportunity for Joliffe to explore more of the world, he grabs at it with just a touch of fear.

Master Richard Wydeville is Her Grace, the widowed Duchess of Bedford’s chamberlain in Rouen. He is also Bishop Beaufort’s spymaster there with orders to instruct Joliffe in the arts of spying. Pierres is one of his secretaries. Foulke is the primary guard for the duchess’ suite of rooms. Sir Richard Wydeville is Master Richard’s so-handsome son. Ivo is a man-at-arms in Wydeville’s employ and teaches Joliffe the tricks of gaming and listening as well as a rough French. Tom Kechyn is another of Wydeville’s spies. Joliffe’s fellow clerks include George and Estienne Doguet.

Master Doncaster is a retired weaponsmaster who gives Joliffe all sorts of lessons. Perrette is also a spy with some useful tricks; she’s teaching Joliffe ciphers as well as testing to see how well he does under pressure—ay-oh, is that what they call it in those days… Matilde and Jeanne are servants in Master Doncaster’s house. Master Roussel is moving his family from Paris and in next door to keep them safe even as he returns to Paris to continue spying against the Armagnacs (the Dauphin’s party).

Louys de Luxembourg, bishop of Therouanne, is sailing back to Normandy, his mission to mitigate the Duke of Burgundy‘s betrayal a failure. The bishop has some gentlemen in his train including clumsy James, the passionate and unthinking Alain Queton, Thierry, and Remon Durevis. Guillaume Cauvet is the bishop’s English secretary and friendly with Joliffe.

Lady Jacquetta, the widowed Duchess of Bedford, has eight more months of mourning to sit through before she gets to have any fun. Well, that’s what everyone else thinks anyway. She is also the bishop of Therouanne’s niece, a member of the Luxembourg family who wishes to distance itself from Burgundy. The ladies of her court include Guillemete, Alizon, Ydoine, Michielle, Blanche, Isabelle, and Marie. M’dame is her chaperon whose intended purpose is to keep scandal from touching on the young widow and primarily results in suppressing any fun for the duchess’ courtiers. Master Fouet is her choir master tasked with providing interesting entertainment that won’t scandalize the countryside.

Bishop Beaufort is the bishop of Winchester and a bastard of John O’Gaunt making him uncle to the 14-year-old King Henry VI. Master Fowler is the bishop’s secretary and spymaster.

The rest of the Lovell Players appear only in the beginning although they do appear throughout in Joliffe’s heart: Basset, Rose, Piers, Ellis, and Gil.

The Cover

I do love Frazer’s covers! They have that lovely, medieval feel. In this one, it’s a mesh of masked revelers, a lady of the court, and townspeople in a Rouen street surrounded by timber-frame, multi-story buildings.

The title is accurate enough as Joliffe finds himself amidst a group of people playing at life as they betray each other, a real life Play of Treachery.

View all my reviews


3 responses to “Margaret Frazer, A Play of Treachery

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