So I was thrilled several weeks ago when Gail Frazer, author or coauthor of the Dame Frevisse mysteries under the name Margaret Frazer, emailed to ask if I'd like to participate in a blog tour for her most recent novella, Winter Heart - an e-book that begins, irony of ironies, with Domina Frevisse seated at her writing desk, studying a parchment roll.
Alas, several electronic mishaps caused me to miss the blog tour. Nothing, however, would cause me to miss a new book in this series, even if it's available only electronically, and even if it's not a novel but a long short story.
Frevisse is now prioress of St. Frideswide's. She now moves serenely about her duties, though her sharp, questioning mind is always active. Perhaps this is why Tom Kelmstowe asks her to plead his case - he knows she will see what others have missed. Tom, accused of rape, left the village precipitously, and his property was given to another. But now Tom has returned, and soon a man who may have wronged him is murdered. Tom is the obvious suspect, but Tom says all the stories about him are wrong.
Frazer's novels are often long on history, short on mystery. This novella, by contrast, is a classic whodunit, though medieval monastery and village life are present as a backdrop. As in several of her other books, Frazer's love of Benedictine solitude and liturgy is evident. The Divine Office, or fixed-hour prayer, provides the framework for all of Frevisse's days:
The Offices, with their garland of prayers and psalms woven out of the worship of generations past and meant to weave forward through generations to come, were the reason for the nunnery’s existence. They were also Frevisse’s great joy more days than not, giving her a time to leave aside her duties and lose herself in the prayers reaching toward Heaven.But Frevisse's assignment - finding a murderer - is practical, not mystical, and she handles it with skills honed by years of detection in what must have been an unusually murder-prone village.
Having read all 17 Dame Frevisse novels, I can't say how this story would appeal to someone who's new to the series. No prior knowledge of St. Frideswide's is required or assumed, but I suspect that part of my enjoyment was increased by long-term involvement with Frevisse, Master Naylor the steward, Dame Claire, and other characters. Still, at $2.99 Winter Heart is a steal, and it will take you only a pleasant evening or two to get acquainted with the indomitable domina.
And diehard Margaret Frazer fans should note that 11 of her short stories (click here and scroll down) are now available through Amazon for $2.99 or less, as long as you're willing to trade in your parchment for Kindle editions.
If you have yet to meet Dame Frevisse, you can take a quick look at my blogpost introduction to her here (or, if you're a subscriber, my Books and Culture review here). Better yet, run to your library or bookstore and begin with the first of the 17 books (so far) in the series, The Novice's Tale.