A Play of Lords

A Play of Lords by Margaret Frazer.  This latest entry in the series featuring the actor Joliffe and Lord Lovell’s players was recommended by multiple members of the Crime Thru Time Yahoo group, normally a very reliable source.  So despite mixed feelings about this series, I decided to give it another try.  The troupe is in London in the fall of 1435 ostensibly as their patron joins other nobles for the opening of Parliament.  However, it seems that Joliffe’s investigating abilities are needed by Lovell’s patron, Bishop Beaufort.  England is still at war with France and with the Duke of Burgundy changing allegiance to the Dauphin, the lucrative wool trade with Flanders is threatened.  In addition, several nobles are seeking to fill the power vacuum created by the earlier death of the Duke of Bedford.  By performing their plays before lordly audiences, the troupe is well-positioned to gather information for his Eminence.

The prosperity and ease that the troupe enjoys while in London is reflected throughout the book.  Maybe it’s because political machinations tend to be more subtle, but there is no real feeling of suspense or danger at any time.  In fact, the book is more than half over before any violence at all takes place.  The murder of an unnamed servant of the Bishop is mentioned and another peripheral character not related to the troupe is killed, but the villains are never confronted, only identified at a distance to be dealt with later.

The focus of the story is once again entirely on Joliffe and his new relationship with the Bishop as no effort is made to develop any of the other principal characters.  However, thankfully, except for a brief section while Joliffe enjoys some wine, we are not subjected to his insipid internal deliberations, which plagued earlier books.  The optimistic view is that this light, entertaining episode is merely a transition as Joliffe and the troupe move up to bigger things, but it is unclear how much use Joliffe can possibly be to the Bishop once the troupe returns to traveling the dusty roads of the shires and performing in small villages along the way.  One clue to the future that the author reveals on the CTT message board is that Joliffe will end up in France before too long.


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