The Reeve’s Tale

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In 1440’s England, the finely honed deductive skills of Sister Frevisse of St. Frideswide’s nunnery are called upon yet again when two men from the nearby village of Prior Byfield are murdered. The plot revolves around the medieval manor court, headed by the eponymous reeve, Simon Perryn, and the nunnery’s steward, Master Naylor, who is replaced by Sister Frevisse when he is unjustly accused of dishonesty and put under house arrest.

Both of the victims were local working men, one married to the reeve’s shrewish sister, Mary, and the other her lover. Both were unhappy over decisions made in manor court by Mary’s brother the reeve. And both were at odds with a more prosperous and unpopular neighbor, Gilbey Dunn. Their deaths bring the arrogant, corrupt crowner, Master Montfort, to Prior Byfield to investigate, who, always looking for the easy answer, suspects both Simon and Gilbey. Furthermore, they are the village’s wealthiest tenants, and therefore Montfort stands to gain monetarily by arresting them because he can then, by law, seize their property as well.

Sister Frevisse alone stands up to her old nemesis, Master Montfort. She also has come to know the principals and believes that Montfort is on the wrong track. She does a little investigating of her own and, needless to say, triumphs in the end, despite Montfort’s efforts to the contrary.

Although the characters and plot are standard fare, the period setting and detail enhance the feast. Author Margaret Frazer appears to have spent considerable time researching fifteenth century England, and it shows in the way she is able to depict village life, its system of self-government, and the power of the early Church.