The Sempster’s Tale: A Dame Frevisse Medieval Mystery
Prime Crime, 2006 (2006)
Reviewed by Tim Davis
hen Margaret Frazer's fifteenth Dame Frevisse medieval mystery opens in June of 1450, Dame Frevisse has traveled from the nunnery at St. Frideswide's in Oxfordshire to nearby London to conduct business on behalf of St. Frideswide's. She has also agreed to complete a personal errand on behalf of her cousin, the recently widowed Lady Alice: A self-employed femme sol sempster, Anne Blakhall, has been engaged by Lady Alice to sew and embroider memorial vestments honoring Lady Alice's husband, the Duke of Suffolk, a political scapegoat who was disgraced and banished from England but murdered while en route to exile and safety; now Dame Frevissse is asked by Lady Alice to finalize the designs and arrangements for the richly ornamented vestments.
ondon, however, is a dangerous city in the mid-15th century. Thousands of heavily armed rebels opposed to an increasingly ineffective King Henry VI threaten to enter the fortified and gated city, and - within the city itself - popular anger against the king is running deeper and wider with each passing day. London's social and political atmosphere is polluted by spies, lies, and fear, and Dame Frevisse, an uncommonly resourceful nun who normally avoids embroilment in secular politics, suddenly finds herself unwittingly drawn into a volatile labyrinth when she is asked by Lady Alice's friend Raulyn Grene - in violation of the king's laws - to transport unusual contraband, property of the Duke of Suffolk, back to its proper owner: Lady Alice.
hen, making matters even worse, the grotesquely mutilated body of a young man is found in the church's crypt at London's St. Swithin's. When religious heretics - perhaps even Jews believed to have been '
banished from England four lifetimes ago
' - are suspected to have committed a ritual killing, Dame Frevisse remains more than a little skeptical. So, in an often uneasy alliance with the sempster Anne Blakhall, Anne's secret lover Daved Weir, and Raulyn Grene, Dame Frevisse applies her preternatural sleuth-like skills to discover who is responsible for the murder.
he Sempster's Tale
- a highly recommended examination of brutal violence born out of ignorance, religious bigotry, and the pursuit of power - is a wonderful mystery that is abundantly enriched with 15th century details. Medieval English society, culture, and politics come to life in Margaret Frazer's skillful application of vivid imagery, complex characterizations, and an intriguing plot wherein murder, deception, greed, prejudice, and fear are ultimately overcome, quite properly, by justice, tolerance, and love.
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