Way back when I first started really reading the Dame Frevisse medieval murder mysteries by Margaret Frazer, I managed to collect fifteen out of the seventeen with relative ease, the more recent ones still in print and most of the older ones available online for typical used-paperback prices of $1-$5 each. But there were two spectacular exceptions: The Outlaw's Tale (#3) and The Murderer's Tale (#6). Both are out of print, but for some unknown reason (small print runs?) are priced in the $30-$60 range on eBay and Amazon. That's about 1000% more than I am interested in paying for a 250-page used paperback book. So for a couple of years I kept checking to see if a cheap copy ever came up anywhere online. No luck so far. As I became more involved in the series and the spinoff Joliffe novels, it became more and more irritating to be missing those pieces of the continuity. And last month it finally occurred to me that while waiting to turn up a copy that isn't overpriced, I could at least satisfy my curiosity by reading them. My local library doesn't have either, but after a few weeks' delay, Interlibrary Loan came through for me.
One of the areas where the Frevisse books actually outdo the Cadfael ones is in avoiding a standard formula. The Murderer's Tale, last of the collaborations before Frazer took the series solo, is an impressive departure: much of the tale is told from the perspective of the brutal and unpleasant Giles Knyvet, whose jealousy of his cousin Lionel is rapidly reaching the boiling point. Lionel is epileptic, which is perceived by the society of the time as demonic possession, and Giles will inherit all his wealth should he die or be declared insane or incompetent. Giles and Lionel and their entourage end up at the home of the noble Lord Lovell at the same time as Frevisse, who is making a pilgrimage in part as a respite from her annoying new Prioress. Naturally, there's a murder -- these are murder mysteries, after all, and the early ones are pure examples of the genre -- though it takes some time to get to. From the reader's outside perspective there's no secret about the identity of the killer; the intrigue comes from watching Frevisse put the pieces together and wondering whether the murderer will get away with it. It reminds me somewhat of Thomas Harris' better novels. It's also a lovely picture of life in a wealthy medieval nobleman's home, very different from Frevisse's impoverished priory or even the comfortable merchant's home of The Outlaw's Tale.
I recommend both books, as well as the whole series. They each work as stand-alone stories, but I find the series a much richer experience when read in chronological order. The full list is included in my previous post comparing the Frevisse and Cadfael novels.
These two books: