A Play of Heresy
Source: Review copy from the publisher.
Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
In the early summer of 1438, Joliffe and his fellow players have arrived in Coventry for the theatrical and religious festival of Corpus Christi. Employed by several of the city's rich and powerful merchant guilds, they plan to present two of the many plays extravagantly depicting all of God's story with pomp and pageantry.
But even as his fellows prepare to perform the Nativity, Joliffe may be called on to play a wise man off the stage as well. When the merchant Master Kydwa goes missing and is found dead, another agent of the cunning Bishop Beaufort calls on Joliffe's skills as a spy to uncover if this murder was an attempt to prevent a warning about a possible Lollard rebellion from reaching them. But when their favorite suspect turns up dead, they have to re-evaluate what's going on.
A Play of Heresy is a historical mystery set in 1438 in England. This is the seventh book in this series, but you can understand it without needing to read the previous books, and it doesn't spoil the mysteries in the previous novels.
While the mystery was enjoyable, I found the historical information extremely interesting. The author clearly did her research, but I never felt like I was being lectured to or given information not relevant to the story. The rich historical detail brought the story alive in my imagination and included how plays were run, how official murder investigations were done, and information about the Lollard's beliefs.
The "whodunit" element was guessable, though there weren't many clues. It's more like how a real murder would be solved than a clever puzzle-mystery. The characters were varied and had just enough of a human element to make them interesting even though we didn't get to deeply know them. The suspense was created by the mystery of whodunit and wondering if they'd be able to pull off a play that was poorly written and had few good or experienced players in it.
Though Lollards were viewed as suspect, Joliffe was not highly critical of their beliefs. (As in, people who share some of the Lollard's views aren't going to feel alienated by the storyline though it stays true to the beliefs of the time.) There was no sex. There was a very minor amount of explicit bad language. Overall, I'd highly recommend this interesting and enjoyable novel.
If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.
Excerpt from Chapter One
The day was dove gray, soft under low clouds, with the rain mist-gentle on Joliffe's face and beading silver on his horse's dark mane. His cloak was a long way yet from soaking through nor had he troubled to pull up his hood; the rain felt good against his face. Too, he judged by the blue patches of sky showing in the east that clearing weather was on the way and there would likely be sun enough to dry his hair and cloak well before he came to Coventry, especially since he was making no hurry of his going.
After a month of doing much, he was enjoying just now not having to do anything in particular. He would get to Coventry when he got to Coventry. There he would soon be doing much and more, and so was content in this while to be simply riding, with England at peace and in plenty around him. For such as worked the land, these were the year's gentle days. The spring's hard work of plowing and planting was past; the summer's hard work of haying and sheep-shearing yet to come.