Margaret Frazer, The Novice’s Tale

(2015-06-17 111)Title: The Novice’s Tale

Author: Margaret Frazer

Series: A Sister Frevisse medieval mystery

Publication Information: New York, N.Y.: Berkley Publishing Group, 1993; Berkley prime crime ed.

ISBN: 0-425-14321-X

Library of Congress Classification: PS3556.R3586

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Nuns–England–Fiction
Aristocracy (Social class)–Great Britain–Fiction
Murder–Great Britain–Fiction
Great Britain–History–Henry VI, 1422-1461–Fiction

This is a Margaret Frazer “Sister Frevisse Medieval mystery.” The good sisters, however, are called “dame” and not “sister.” It’s 1431 and Henry VI reigns as king, but he is a minor and living in France. His mother, Catherine, lives separately from the court in England.

The book centers on Thomasine, a young novice who is scheduled to take her vows in the priory in two weeks. Much to the consternation of Dame Frevisse, the hostler at the at St. Frideswide’s, who finds Thomasine too meek, mild, and desperate to escape the world. However, even Frevisse does not doubt Thomasine’s piety and dedication to God.

Thomasine is the great-niece of Lady Ermentrude, one of the well-off Fenner family, who decides to grace St. Frideswide with her presence. There are no hotels or motels at this time; priories and abbeys would, in effect, offer refuge while people traveled. It is here that the boastful, nasty woman meets her end, after returning from visiting Thomasine’s sister and her husband and raving like a lunatic, finally collapsing. Nothing she says makes sense when she returns, and she is determined to take Thomasine away from the good sisters and have her married, an anathema to Thomasine.

The servitude of women is quite evident. Even Frevisse’s uncle makes a remark that if Frevisse had only been a man she could have lead an army, much to the consternation of Domina Edith, the prioress. Women are forced to marry and have children, which is one reason why Thomasine wants to enter the priory. She thinks that being completely removed from the suffering around her is the way to holiness. Frevisse dissuades her from this notion.

The pressure to solve the mystery comes from Lady Ermentrude’s son, Sir Walter, but he is more interested in blaming someone for the murder quickly so he can get on with his affairs. He is also just as imperious and nasty as his mother. This is what Frevisse must contend with if she is to solve the mystery.

Good stuff.

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