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The Apostate's Tale (A Dame Frevisse Mystery)
320 pp., $7.99
The Shamus Was a Nun
Among my regrets over my wasted youth, one looms exceptionally large: I did not begin reading mysteries until I was nearly forty. Dorothy L. Sayers introduced me to the genre, her books being a natural segue for someone whose reading list was long on theology, short on novels. Once we made contact, I carried her paperbacks with me everywhere; I did not even want to go to the bathroom without them. It did not take long to finish the 13 Lord Peter (and Harriet Vane) stories, and soon I was tucking into Ngaio Marsh's 32 books featuring Roderick Alleyn (and Agatha Troy).
Friends caught on to my newfound passion—it was probably hard to miss, since it precluded conversation—and began leaving battered copies of their favorite mysteries on my desk. Ellis Peters (Brother Cadfael, 20 titles)! Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse, 13)! Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone, 20 and counting)! It was heaven. And heavenly indeed was my discovery, in 2004, of Dame Frevisse, a quick-witted Benedictine nun of St. Frideswide's Priory in Oxfordshire. I immediately devoured ten books about her, combing the Internet to find the ones that had inexplicably gone out of print. Fortunately my conversion to mysteries coincided with my conversion to mass-market paperbacks. They are easy to sneak from one's desk to the office washroom. They do not weigh down carry-on baggage. They are cheap—which, when one becomes addicted to a lengthy series, becomes an important consideration. The Apostate's Tale, to be published in paperback in January, is number 17 in Margaret Frazer's medieval mystery series. Frevisse, born c. 1400, is the niece-by-marriage of Geoffrey Chaucer's son Thomas and thus cousin to Thomas' daughter Alice, Countess of Suffolk—actual historical characters, by the way. Her connections and native wit allow her to ride out of the nunnery surprisingly often, inadvertently getting mixed up in affairs of state, church politics, romance, and even smuggling. Some of the best tales, ...