Book Review: Margaret Frazer’s A Play of Heresy

Posted March 6, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Margaret Frazer’s A Play of Heresy

A Play of HeresyCoventry, Easter, plays, murder, spies, guilds, mercer, jealousy, Judas, theater, directing, acting, suicide, costumes, religious plays,


Margaret Frazer

historical mystery in Paperback edition that was published by Berkley on December 6, 2011 and has 304 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Murder Most Medieval: Noble Tales of Ignoble Demises, The Murderer's Tale

Seventh in the Joliffe the Player historical mystery series set in 1438 in Coventry, England. It’s the season for the Corpus Christi plays, and the playing should be profitable in Coventry.

My Take

This story concentrates on the acting portion of the players involved with most of the action on Joliffe and his work with Will. We do get to eavesdrop on Joliffe’s investigations of the people involved as he tries to find out what happened [and whodunnit] to Kydwa. We only encounter Basset and company now and again as they catch up with one another with all the joking and bantering to which we are so accustomed.

We also get a bit of Lollard history along with an insight into the more undercover guild tasks. Joliffe’s meetings with Sebastian also teach us more of the maneuverings required of spies. And a crash course on how a murder or suicide is investigated. I think I prefer our system.

I do so enjoy Frazer’s writing. It’s a deft blend of the tragic and comic even as we vicariously live the lifestyle. Frazer creates believable and unique characters who embody the range of human faults. Joliffe’s musings on the how and why of Kydwa’s death are enough to drive you crazy with all the possibilities with an intriguing exposé on how punishment works when the crimes are interpreted.

The Story

The Bishop of Winchester has let Joliffe loose to make his way to Coventry. He’s too late to play a part in the performance the rest of Lord Lovell’s Players are in, but Basset has accepted a couple of other gigs for Joliffe. Much more useful really as Sebastian has a new task for him. The mercer Sebastian was to meet in Bristol never showed and Master Kydwa is from Coventry.

One of those promises is helping Will Sendell try to make something out of the worst play of all the guilds. All the dregs have settled onto Will, and he’s looking forward to Joliffe’s help with direction and coaching that cheeky Dick as well as his abilities to play First Prophet and Ane the Prophetess.

The field trips to find props give Joliffe plenty of opportunities to explore while the social aspect of hanging out after rehearsals makes his task easier as the tragedies pile up.

The Characters

Lord Lovell’s Players include…
Joliffe, writer, actor, musician — and now spy for the Bishop of Winchester; Basset is the leader of the group with his daughter Rosa who handles their money, mothers them, and ensures that their costumes are in order along with his grandson, Rosa’s son, Piers, who acts in the female, demon-imp, and sweet-faced angel roles; Ellis is Rosa’s lover — her conscience smites her often as she is still married even if no one has heard from her runaway husband in years; and, Gil is a young lad who joined from the home manor of Minster Lovell — perfect for those feminine roles. Basset is the only member of the troupe who really understands what Joliffe gets up to on these side trips. The LLPlayers are staying at Master Silcok‘s, a member of the Shearsmen and Tailors’ Guild.

Sebastian is Joliffe’s instructor and superior when in Bishop Beaufort of Winchester’s service. And he’s got it in for the Lollards. Master Fylongley is the bailiff while and the crowner is Master Grevile.

Will Sendell used to be a part of Basset’s troupe until hard times caused him to choose to leave. He’s been scrounging for bit jobs for some time since the troupe he put together fell apart. Master Eustace Powet and his nephew Dick are playing Joseph and the 12-year-old Christ, respectively. Master John Burbage is playing a Doctor in the Temple while Richard Eme will be pushed into Second Prophet. It’s a perfect role for Richard — he can be as pedantic as he likes with Joliffe to offset him. Now if Will can survive his ideas of how the play should be performed!? Hew is playing one of the angels. Ned Eme is to play the other angel and Gabriel. Ted Maydeford is to play Mary, and it’s Joliffe’s sore task to ensure he is Mary.

Master Powet’s is a…
…complex household. Mistress Byfeld is Master Powet’s niece and owns the house; Mistress Anna Deyster has moved back home since her husband’s death. Herry [he runs the shop] and Dick are her children and Master Powet’s great-niece and -nephews. Old John and his children, Cecily and Robyn Kydwa, rent a room from Powet’s niece.

The Cover and Title

Ooh, this is springy with its bright green border and delicate, scrolly corners! A light background showcases a couple buildings and a stage as the townspeople hang about or practice their parts.

The title refers to the Lollard belief that they are the True Men. A belief that truly is A Play of Heresy in these times.