Book Review: Margaret Frazer’s The Reeve’s Tale

Posted January 4, 2013 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from 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 The Reeve’s Tale

The Reeve's Tale

in Paperback edition on September 1, 2000 and has 288 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Ninth in the Sister Frevisse medieval mystery series revolving around a very bright nun. This takes place in the village near the priory.

In 2000, The Reeve’s Tale was nominated for the Minnesota Book Award for Best Novel.

My Take

Medieval CSI.

A real education in the medieval English justice system regarding villeinage and the crowner’s perks. If this doesn’t make you appreciate our system, you’re brain dead! It’s also a fun bit of background on where the New England system of town meetings arose. Makes me wish we had this system in place in a lot more places and more intimately than what we have now, if only because it takes into account real people. Yes, it’s paternalistic, but that part of the system did work then.

I do like how Domina Elisabeth stands up for Master Naylor! I definitely prefer “innocent until proven guilty” and I see how important that doctrine is when I see how Spencer treats Naylor!

It’s difficult to believe that Simon has no clue about Dame Frevisse what with the priory right there. It is, however, great fun to read of Simon’s relief!

Okay, okay, once Frevisse explained, it made sense how Walter got the best of the deal with Hamon. Tricksy bits. It was interesting to see how they went about finding jurors and witnesses to the deceased. An evolution of the legal system. It was fascinating to read of the different ways in which barter worked within the village and between village and priory.

I just wanna smack that Mary. What a cow!! I’d be surprised if she had any friends. Then I wanna take a contract out on Monfort. What a jerk! Lucky for everyone that Frevisse is in Priory Byfield and won’t accept his actions. I do want to know how it is that Monfort manages to hang on to his position when he’s such a clod.

I so enjoy this series. Yeah, partly because it’s an historical mystery, but also because Frazer has created warm, caring characters. It’s not as cozy as an Agatha Christie with Miss Marple, but Frevisse is cut from the same cloth as Christie’s various detectives. Even if people do keep turning up murdered. It’s a microcosm of the world with most of its types reflected in this one tiny village. And remember, always, to suffer the little children.

The Story

It’s the three-month court in Priory Byfield and, while it can be tricky seeing as the village is held by both Lord Lovell and St. Frideswide, Simon and Naylor work well together. This time around, the two settle the usual petty disputes and problems. However, Matthew Woderove’s lease on some land has come up and he has done nothing with the land while offers are made by others.

The difficulty lies mostly in perception. Of Matthew and his wife’s pride. Of Gilbey’s ambition. Of Tom Hulcote and Mary’s making their union official.

But now Master Naylor has been accused of a life-altering crime and it’s Dame Frevisse, who is forced to take on Master Naylor’s duties. With Sister Thomasine along as chaperon.

Then plague strikes, and Frevisse and Thomasine are forbidden the priory.

The Characters
Dame Frevisse is an extremely intelligent and devout woman who simply wants to be left to her prayers and her duties in the kitchen. Sister Thomasine is truly devout and yet adapts well to life outside St. Frideswide. Dames Claire, Perpetua, and Juliana and Sisters Johane and Cecely are mentioned. Father Henry is the priory’s priest. A slow-witted man, but very devout. Abbot Gilberd is in charge of St. Frideswide’s since Domina Alys screwed everything up and he’s put his sister, Domina Elisabeth, in charge.

Father Edmund came last autumn to be the priest for Priory Byfield. Mistress Margery is a healer.

The villagers of Priory Byfield who belong to the priory include:
Master Naylor manages affairs for St. Frideswide Priory. At least. He did. Dickon is his oldest son and is being held hostage at Simon’s to ensure Naylor’s staying put.

Tom Hulcote wants to marry the new widow and take on her property. Well, he wants to regularize their affair anyway.

Alson Bonde is a widow and inherits her husband’s land as does her son, Young William. Just a wee problem between them of how she manages her share when Martin Fisher offers to lease from her. Then there’s the matter of Hamon Otale paying back the money he borrowed. Seems there’s a bit he’s forgotten.

Those belonging to Lord Lovell include:
Simon Perryn is married to Anne and manages local affairs for Lord Lovell acting as reeve for Priory Byfield. He has two sons, Adam and Colyn, and one daughter, Lucy. Cisily is their maidservant while Watt handles the heavier chores. Master Spencer is Lord Lovell’s bailiff while Master Holt is his high steward.

Tomkin Goddard, Bert Fleccher, and Walter Hopper are villeins along with Gilbey Dunn except that he’s making something of himself. Including getting married to Elena, a freeborn woman from Banbury, since we last encountered him in The Servant’s Tale. And does that ever have people in a pucker. I do like Elena! Agnes, Jack Fleccher, and Tom Hulcote work for Dunn.

Mary is Simon’s sister and married to Matthew Woderove. Mary is a real nasty shrew of a woman who can’t bear to be denied. Matthew is a man who should have done well if he had simply stayed on his father’s path.

Master Monfort is the crowner and one of the most prejudiced, obtuse, stupid men you’ll ever meet! Of course the revelation about a convicted person’s goods goes a long way to explain his desire to wrap things up quickly. Surely whoever Monfort accuses of a crime is guilty of something? An ally! Monfort has a son, Christopher. He’s intelligent. Must have gotten it from his mother.

The Cover and Title

The cover is beautiful and both warm and cold in its depiction of a scene from the story. The cold is from the metallic deep blue gray background while the warm arises from the deep red, ornately carved frame which encases a sad scene of one man riding a horse and leading another while the wife kneels on the ground, keening her grief and two nuns attempt to provide comfort. In the background is a church and a house with a promenade. It’s familiar from previous appearances on covers.

The title reflects a man around whom the story revolves both intimately and from a distance. This is The Reeve’s Tale to tell.