Joliffe the Player Mysteries

Joliffe the Player Mysteries
Margaret Frazer, 2004-2011

I wrote last year that one of the series that was getting me through the pandemic was Margaret Frazer's Dame Frevisse mysteries. Spinning out of that comes this shorter, slightly more active series, following a group of traveling players in the 1430s. It's a delight. 

The Frevisse mysteries have to occasionally find excuses for the main character to leave her home abbey to end up wherever the plot takes place, but Joliffe and his companions are naturally on the move. They come into contact with people from every walk of life. As travelers, though, they are often mistrusted, giving the naturally sharp-witted Joliffe an additional motivation beyond his own curiosity for solving whatever murder is at hand. 

The depth of the author's research is constantly clear, and anyone writing anything set in a medieval society could do a lot worse for their own research than reading these books. Of course, I especially love all the details about how the troupe functions: how their plays are written or adapted, how quickly they're learned and performed, and for what kinds of audiences in what kinds of settings.

The players start out with very little, but their circumstances change over the course of the series, partially due to Joliffe's habit of being more perceptive than average and not letting things go. This eventually leads him into more direct investigative work, which he has decidedly mixed feelings about.

All the characters are interesting, but Joliffe is a particularly sympathetic soul for me - he left behind a potential scholar's life to follow wanderlust, art, and curiosity, but the intelligence that brings him success also brings him to the attention of those in power who might compel him to use his skills in more dangerous ways.

I've enjoyed every book in this series, and I'll probably even read them all again at some point.

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