Friday, May 20, 2011

Blog Tour Review + Guest Post: Winter Heart by Margaret Frazer

Winter Heart (Sister Frevisse Medieval Mysteries)From the Back Cover:

One man has been kidnapped. Another has been murdered.

In the bleakest depths of winter, Frevisse finds her soul chilled with the heavy burdens of duty and responsibility. Even the warmth of charity is in short supply as the villagers of Prior Byfield turn against each in bloody feuds of greed and rage, weaving knots of treachery which even the clever Frevisse may find hard to unwind...

My Thoughts:

Before now I had not read any of Frazer's Dame Frevisse or Player Joliffe mysteries, though I'd long wanted to! Her books have come highly recommended by some of my favorite authors, so when Ms. Frazer asked if I'd like to participate in a blog tour to celebrate a brand new Dame Frevisse novella, I was delighted to say yes!

Dame Frevisse is the prioress of St. Frideswide's, and as such, is expected to settle matters of contention in the surrounding village. Her problems begin when a runaway serf, Tom Kelmstowe, who had been accused of attempted rape, returns to the village find everything he owned confiscated and redristributed by the priory. He claims he was innocent and had been abducted, and Dame Frevisse gives him the benefit of the doubt, allowing him to return to the village and his family. But two weeks later the man who's wife accused him, and who was given Kelmstowe's confiscated lands, is found murdered. It's up to Dame Frevisse to determine if Kelmstowe, the obvious suspect, is guilty, or whether someone with more sinister motives lurks in the village.

This is a novella, so it's a very quick read and a great introduction to Dame Frevisse for anyone who's not familiar with the series. It's different from most other historical fiction I've read in that, one, the main character is a nun, and so most of the story takes place inside a nunnery, and two, it paints a vivid and realistic picture of life in a tiny medieval village, and it's not all quaint and dreamy. It's winter, life is hard. Crown officials are seldom seen, and it's up to the village to keep its own peace. I enjoyed it, and you know me--anything that educates as well as entertains me gets a thumbs up in my book!

I asked Margaret is she would share a few words about the Dame Frevisse series, and she graciously agreed. So now, without further ado, I'd like to welcome Margaret Frazer to Let Them Read Books!

Dame Frevisse came about when a friend of mine – already a published author of modern murder mysteries – planned to write a medieval mystery. She had researched medieval Benedictine nunneries in England, while I had spent decades researching everything else about England in the 1400s, and initially I was only going to provide details for the story she meant to write. She had settled on a nun for her main character and, for no particular reason, chosen Oxfordshire as the site of her nunnery. Because of all my research, I knew of St. Frideswide, a saint barely known outside of the Oxford area, and I suggested her for the nunnery’s patron saint. Then, because my friend did not yet have a name for her nun, I suggested the French version of Frideswide – Frevisse.

I also persuaded my friend that, rather than an abbess – a woman of considerable power – Frevisse should be an ordinary nun. We agreed, too, that rather than have some dark and dramatic backstory of how she had come to be a nun, she would have freely chosen the life and love it.

Then my friend came down with writer’s block. Only a few pages into the story, she became totally unable to move forward. As half a jest, I suggested she turn the book over to me. She did, and I completed the outline for the plot while reading deeply into medieval nunnery life so I would better understand Dame Frevisse and the life she was living. Then, once I had set to work and written the first few chapters, I shared what I’d done with my friend, and with her writer’s block gone, she joined in and we worked together for the first six books of the series, until she tired of medieval England and returned to the present, leaving Frevisse and the series to me.

For people encountering a series for the first time, there’s sensible concern about whether or not they need to have read earlier parts of the series for the present story to make sense. For that reason I’ve very deliberately worked to make each of my novels and short stories stand-alones. That holds as true for the latest – WINTER HEART – as it does for all the others. For readers who know the series, there’ll be familiar names and echoes from the novels. For anyone encountering these people and this place for the first time, the story is complete in itself, with no stray bits of prior knowledge needed.

That said, writing WINTER HEART was like a homecoming for me.

I wrote the last book in the Dame Frevisse series several years ago. Health and publishers made me decide to end the series where I wanted to, rather than where chance or accountants’ whim dictated. Except for lingering thoughts of perhaps a prequel, I thought I had done with Frevisse and her priory. But time passed, and this story wanted to be written, and when I sat down to it, I found how much I’d missed the world of St. Frideswide’s, missed spending time with Frevisse and others I’d come to know so very well over the course of 17 novels and three short stories. I hadn’t known how much I missed my friends until I was happy to be with them again!

Oddly, though, this is the first of Frevisse’s stories not to be a “Tale”. All the other stories I’ve written around her have had “Tale” in the title, yet this one very definitely wanted the title it has. I don’t know why, but sometimes I know when not to argue. And so – WINTER HEART.


  1. I love the medieval mystery but haven't heard of Margaret Frazer's books. I'm going to look for her now! You might enjoy Priscilla Royal who also does a medieval mystery series with an abbess!

  2. I hope you enjoy what you find, Audra. I'll actually be doing an interview with Priscilla at LadyKillers on the 22nd as part of the blog tour. I look forward to seeing you there!

  3. Margaret -- Thanks for the tip -- how fun! I'll definitely check it out!

  4. As my blog tour winds down, I just wanted to drop in again to say thank you for a very enjoyable time!


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