A PLAY OF ISAAC by Margaret Frazer (Review)

It’s been a while since I posted here – personal stuff and travelling, and recently putting the finishing touches to my own historical novel – the first! More about that very soon!

Meanwhile, as well as several brand new indie books I downloaded, I’ve been rereading Margaret Frazer’s Joliffe novels. The late Margaret Frazer, I should say, for she passed away in 2013, and has been and will continue to be much missed. I reviewed all her earlier Dame Frevisse novels as they came out for MedievalMysteries.com. (which sadly is no longer with us in this universe either, though perhaps it is flourishing in some parallel universe!) but not the Joliffe stories.

Joliffe was a character who had appeared occasionally in the Dame Frevisse novels, and took over in a new series as the lead, the sleuth. For this, Margaret Frazer took us back in time from the mid-1440s, the date Dame Frevisse had reached by then, to 1434, soon after the events in The Servant’s Tale, the Dame Frevisse novel in which Joliffe made his first appearance.

The First in the “Joliffe” series of Medieval Mysteries

England, 1434

‘It’s not turned out so ill for you, though, has it?’
‘It hasn’t, true enough. But you?’
Penteney’s doubt was plain but Basset’s answer was unhesitant. ‘As far as any man is likely to get what he wants in this world, I’ve the life I want, no fear. And even if I didn’t,’ he added jestingly, ‘it’s a better life than the one I might have had if we hadn’t paid our price.’
‘Longer, at any rate,’ Penteney returned, matching the jest, but with something more than jest behind it.
‘Something less than jest was in Basset’s voice, too, as he asked, ‘And Roger? Do you ever hear aught of him? Or from him?’
There was silence then, making Joliffe wish for more than starlight by which to see Penteney’s face before he answered, ‘I’ve never seen him since, but I hear from him once a year. Sometimes twice. He’s well. He’s … doing well.’
‘And best not spoken of,’ Basset said.
‘Best not,’ Penteney agreed. ‘Basset, come inside. I’ve wine in my study. Let’s risk the time to talk …’
‘It’s not worth the risk, Hal. Even this is more than we should.’
‘But you’re well,’ Penteney insisted. ‘You can assure me of that?’
‘As well in my way as you are in yours. I swear it.’
Not knowing how long they would talk and afraid it would not be much longer, given their unease at it, Joliffe slid silently away along the wall. Given one thing and another, he thought he would rather be in his bed and seemingly asleep when Basset next saw him than be caught here listening.

Joliffe and the small company of players of which he is a member are in Oxford to perform The Play of Abraham and Isaac during the Corpus Christi celebrations. And of course they are delighted when a stage-struck “Eden-child” refuses to be parted from them.

But by then Joliffe had taken a clear look at the stocky, undergrown, widely smiling man in the doorway and somewhat eased out of his readiness for trouble. He had rarely seen one of that fellow’s kind grown to man-size because they mostly died young, but there was no mistaking their soft-fleshed slant-eyed faces. Eden children they were sometimes called, and children they stayed in most ways, no matter how long they lived, and there was rarely any harm in them …

This is Lewis, Master Fairfield, and when he refuses to leave them the Players are invited by his “keepers” to spend the next few days at his home, a large house on the outskirts of the city – not in the house itself – they are, after all, merely players – but a large barn is put at their disposal. They of course are delighted.

Then the mysteries begin. Why is Lewis, the Eden-child, heir to the family fortunes rather than his far more suitable brother Simon? What is the dangerous secret linking their host with the playmaster, Tom Bassett? And who is the dead man whose body is dumped outside  the barn door that night?

The first time I read this book, I was hooked. I knew at once that I would go on to read the whole series as it came out, book by book. This second time was even better in some ways.

Tomorrow I’ll do a post on the second in the series, A Play of Dux Moraud.

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2 thoughts on “A PLAY OF ISAAC by Margaret Frazer (Review)

  1. Hello, Kanti! The very best on your historical novel! My favorite kind hands down. I just published “The Kimono” on CreateSpace, Amazon.com last week. It’s also a historical/fantasy novel…based in 21st century and 17th century Japan, full of Tengus, battles, mythological beings. It was 12 years in the writing but these things take research as you well know. My very best for you in the future of your writing. Lady Nyo

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