Margaret Frazer

Posts tagged ‘reeve’s tale’

The Reeve's Tale - Margaret FrazerFor the curious (or the doubtful), yes, English village government was much as it’s shown here, only far more complex. The villagers themselves ran daily matters, governing themselves in much the way of New England town meetings (whose self-governing skills probably developed from these medieval roots) while dealing with the complex bureaucracies of lord, church, and central government. The cases that come before the village court in Chapter One are all taken directly or derived from actual cases in medieval village court records, down to some of the names remaining the same.

Two books I cheerfully recommend if you want a more detailed, non-fiction look at everyday village life are the scholarlyl but readable Life on the English Manor by H. S. Bennett and The Ties That Bound by Barbara Hanawalt.

The mesels are of course today’s measles, though the word was not applied exclusively that way until well after the 1400s but was used for several different ailments, ranging from measles to leprosy. Mesels as we think of it was considered a children’s version of smallpox, less devastating than the adult kind but potentially lethal nonetheless. My own memory of being horribly sick with them in pre-vaccine days stayed with me darkling enough to be used here – as well as inspiring me to have my own children innoculated against them as early as I could.

Since rashes were – and still are – difficult to tell apart, it was useful that the rash that went with some of the worst forms of plague did indeed form rosy rings, as Mistress Margery observes, and the next time you hear “Ring around the rosy, A pocket full of posy, Atchoo, atchoo, All fall down,” know the sweet little game in a circle with everyone collapsing at the end is hypothesized to be a re-enacting of the Black Death. Sneezing was one of the possible symptoms, and the posies were herbs and flowers hoped to give protection against it. Children, being devastatingly realistic, showed how effective they thought that to be.

And by the way, to be pedantic, no one ever died of the Black Death in the Middle Ages. They died of the Great Pestilence, the Great Death, the Great Plague, but the term “Black Death” seems to come into use only in the early 1800s.

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The Reeve's Tale - Margaret Frazer

The Reeve’s Tale has been released for both Kindle and the Nook. It can also be read on any iPad, Android, Windows PC, Mac, or Blackberry device using either the free Kindle Reading Apps or the free Nook Apps for those platforms. It will be available through the iBookstore and other platforms shortly, but those platforms take longer to process new e-books than Amazon or B&N.


The village of Prior Byfield is blighted with famine, devastated by plague, and cursed with ill-fortune. Simon Perryn, the poor reeve of the village, is driven to distraction by the petty rivalries and hopeless troubles of his neighbors. His adulterous sister and her dolt of a husband have entangled their affairs with Gilbey Dunn, the richest man of the village, and Elena, the beautiful and seductive woman that he calls his wife. With wealth on the line and lives at the stake, old quarrels and ancient angers are boiling over into the once-quiet streets of the village. That’s when things get even worse for Simon: A horrid scandal curses him with a pair of nuns, sent from the nearby nunnery of St. Frideswide’s to make sure all is kept right in the village.

Dame Frevisse, however, suspects that the scandal which has drawn her and the innocent Sister Thomasine from the safety of the priory is but the tip of a terrible intrigue which threatens both nunnery and village alike: The good, kind, and honest Master Naylor stands accused of a crime which threatens to strip him and his entire family of their freedom. Who could stand to profit from his loss? Is it the same silent killer who stalks the village youth? Or are they all being played like fools?

Yet even if Frevisse’s keen wit can lay bare the ugliness in the hearts of men, she fears that no amount of prayer will serve to cleanse her own soul of that sickly hate. Can even God pardon one who has turned from a holy path?


“Everything about it bespeaks quality and care… Frazer draws us into a medieval village in England with a story of lust, greed and murder.” – St. Paul Pioneer Press

“Exquisitely written, the novel offers a brilliantly realized vision of a typical medieval English village, peopled with full-blooded men and women who experience the human range of joys and sorrows. Suspenseful from start to surprising conclusion, this is another gem from an author who’s twice been nominated for an Edgar.” – Publisher’s Weekly

“This tale is a trip back in time, a time when your personal wants had to be satisfied with what could be found in your immediate surroundings. You will appreciate the intense need for each village and villager to be self-sufficient. You experience the terror caused when children fall ill. The Reeve’s Tale is a fascinating one.” – Martha’s Vineyard Times

“Frazer [turns] the screw of the mystery… The looming threats guarantee suspense… Greed and self-interest lurk beneath marital agreements knotted to land contracts, reminding God’s virgins just who feeds them.” – Kirkus Review

I am very sorry for the long interruption between the release of the e-book for The Maiden’s Tale and The Reeve’s Tale, but there were both emotional and practical hurdles to be cleared after my mother’s death. She and I had worked together to establish a really fantastic working process for converting and editing the books (and frequently adding bonus features and the like to them). It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, difficult to find a new process that would ensure the high quality standards that my mother’s work deserves.

For those of you waiting for The Squire’s Tale and some of the other missing titles from later in the series, however, I can now say with a fair degree of certainty that they will be appearing once more with regular frequency.


– Justin

Cancer: The Radiation Therapy

September 4th, 2012

With the cancer in my sternum, I received radiation therapy that, day by day, drained me of more and more energy. Because mornings are my best time to write, I scheduled my radiation treatments for early afternoons, which would have given me time to rest before writing again except that, besides writing and taking myself to the hospital for radiation and trying to rest while keeping house, I was also helping one of my sons get his driver’s license, buy a car, and find an apartment before he started going to college that fall. I wanted him as ready as possible to live without me if it came to that.

With all of that going on, the writing went very, very slowly.  One page a day was good, two pages in a day was a triumph.  But I didn’t tell my agent or editor what I was going through, thinking that when I missed my deadline on the present book, I would have a terrific excuse for it and they’d forgive me.  Imagine my “disappointment” when I finished the book two weeks ahead of the deadline, my great excuse gone to waste.

At the end of everything I was weak but still functioning, with the tumor in the sternum dead and the hope of more books ahead of me.

(Take note, however, that when, with radiation, they say “There’ll be some reddening of the skin at the site”, what they mean is you are getting a radiation burn.  I had good luck with simple aloe vera gel to soothe mine, rather than some prescription thing.  And when they say there’ll be “some tanning”, they don’t mean as from a pleasant time at the beach but closer to tanning an animal hide. Bloody, misleading euphemisms.)

Onward, stubbornly, I went. The Reeve’s Tale became the first book to be published as a hardcover, and my next book after that was The Squire’s Tale, where I fulfilled a long-held wish to write Robert’s story.  He had shown up in The Novice’s Tale as, first, an unnamed servant who opened doors and answered questions, but an unnamed, recurring servant was a bother, so I gave him a name and ended by making him someone integral to the whole story. I also found I would like to spend more time with him.  Thus he made his small appearance in The Bishop’s Tale and eventually got his own whole book.

But despite the radiation specialist’s assurance during the treatment that I would notice no effects to my lungs from the radiation therapy, when the treatment was done I was promptly assured by my then-oncologist that I would soon suffer “asthma-like effects”.  He at least was telling the truth.  Pills of bee pollen and Siberian ginseng moderated the breathing problems to some degree, but the polluted city air too often caused my damaged lungs to seize up, just as with asthma, and I promise you that it’s a terrifying feeling, not being able to draw in enough oxygen.

Happily, as a writer I don’t have to live in a city, so less than a year after finishing the radiation I ended up moving to the country so I could indulge more easily in the simple pleasure of breathing.

Besides, I like living in the country far more than I do living in town.

Alas, a year later, as I had The Clerk’s Tale under way, the cancer returned in my ribs and right lung, doing such rapid damage that I submitted to the dire necessity of chemotherapy.

– Margaret

The Squire's Tale - Margaret Frazer The Clerk's Tale - Margaret Frazer

Cancer: The First Return

August 30th, 2012

With my opening encounter with cancer in 1992, I had a bi-lateral mastectomy. In the six clear years that followed, I wrote six books.

For the first part of this time, I was working with a co-author. Mary and I had a prosperous relationship through the first six books of the series (from The Novice’s Tale through The Murderer’s Tale), but by the end of them she had grown tired of medieval England and our vision for the stories had drifted somewhat apart. She wanted to write warmer murder mysteries – cozies; but I simply do not feel cozy about murder and prefer to explore the deep effects of it on everyone around a wrongful death. Mary so loathed Giles in The Murderer’s Tale, however, that before we were done she could not work on chapters from his point of view. (We will not consider what this says about me, that I was willing to be in Giles’ head.) After that, we parted friends – leaving me in medieval England while she began a new career as Monica Ferris, writing mysteries centered around a modern needlework shop.

I was lucky with The Prioress’ Tale, my first solo effort in the series: Both my agent and my editor told me I waited far too long to kill anyone in it. They said I could get away with it once, but that I should never do that again.

Then it was nominated for an Edgar Award, and after that I was allowed to kill people whenever I wanted to.

From there it was The Maiden’s Tale – story I had been wanting to tell for a very long time – and then on to The Reeve’s Tale. It was while I was working on The Reeve’s Tale in 1998 that the cancer made its first return. The damnable stuff was in my sternum this time, eating a large, tumor-filled chunk out of the bone, and as you can see from the sudden heaping of dedications at the front of Reeve’s, I wasn’t sure I would live to write another book.

This was also when I began my long career of not trusting what oncologists said to me. You see, I had been told that if I made it five years without the cancer coming back, I was cured, in the clear, a success. But at one of the scans to determine what the cancer was doing in the bone, a technician asked me if this was my first time with breast cancer, and when I answered, no, I’d had it six years ago, the technician said casually. “Oh, yes. Six years is when it usually comes back if it’s going to.”

I was left speechless.  I had been annoyed at insurance companies because I’d been told none of them would give me health insurance for seven years after the breast cancer had been treated.  That had seemed eminently unfair, given the oncologists’ claim – made boldly and often – that if a woman goes clear of cancer for five years, she’s cured.  But now I had to consider that the insurance companies had a very good reason for their seven-year limit – and that if the insurance companies knew about the six-year cycle of recurrence, then the cancer community’s claim that “five years and you’re cured” was someone’s cruel, self-serving statistical game to make a good-looking “success rate”.

What makes me a tad bit more bitter is that if I had not accepted the “five years and you’re cured”, I would have figured out far sooner that the excruciating pain in my chest was likely cancer instead of the strained muscle I supposed it was and kept trying to ease, and I would have gone to the oncologist far sooner.

Since then, with fourteen more years experience, I have become wary of the almost-truths and avoidances too many doctors practice to keep control over us (for our own good, of course).  Rather than blindly trusting what oncologists or any other physician tells me (no matter how desperately I wish they would just save me), I listen, I judge, I research, I make my choices – often against the advice of my various oncologists over the years – knowing full well that a choice I make could be the wrong choice and kill me.  But doctors make those choices for us all the time, all too often “by the book” and without due regard for our personal responses to medications, and their choices also kill.  Frankly, if I had been a “good patient” and done as I was told at every turn through these past years, I’d have been dead long since.  As it is, I grope onward, hoping for the best.

– Margaret

The Prioress' Tale - Margaret Frazer The Maiden's Tale - Margaret Frazer The Reeve's Tale - Margaret Frazer

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