This is one of the most satisfying historical mysteries I have read recently. Margaret Frazer's latest Dame Frevisse story is meticulous in its 15th centruy backdrop, if a bit slow-paced in the unfolding of the plot. Dame Frevisse is a Benedictine nun and the granddaughter of Geoffry Chaucer. The titles of the series sound as if they are lifted from Canterbury Tales, though only a few actually are.
The story takes place in 1446, early in the reign of Henry VI. It is a time of truce in the Hundred Years' War. Jeanne d"Arc is dead and the French have not yet begun their push to finally expel the English from their continental holdings. Most of the characters in the story are from the lesser country gentry or bourgeoisie. The doings at the royal court are only a distant rumor, but impinging on this story is the maneuvering for power between the Earl of Suffolk (to whom Frevisse's cousin is married) and Lord Lovell which presages the coming War of the Roses.
Dame Frivisse has been asked to accompany her prioress on a visit to her dying cousin, prioress of St Mary's convent in Goring, Oxfordshire. Upon arriving they find that Master Montfort, Escheator of the county, has been murdered in the garden of the convent. He was at Goring to resolve a contested inheritance. The extended families involved in the dispute are numerous and Montfort was universally disliked, so the list of suspects is long. Montfort's son, Christopher, who is also an official of the crown, has the responsibility for investigating his father's death. He secretly enlists Dame Frivisse, who has a reputation for solving murders, to help him.
The central characters are well-drawn and three-dimensional. I particularly liked Montfort's widow and Lady Agnes, the feisty grandmother of one of the claimants in the property dispute. The reader is treated to a detailed look at life among the minor gentry in medieval England -- especially their food and dress. Dame Frivisse is no jumped-up 21st century female PI in period costume, (as are too many of the detectives in historical mysteries)but is rather a smart, observant, pious nun who has a knack for untangling people's motivations.