During Just Desserts’ traditional end-of-year holiday hiatus in November and December 2019, we’re going to continue to remain active…but only in a virtual sense. During these two months, although we won’t be gathering for an in-person meeting, members are encouraged to read either one or both of Wilkie Collins’ two classic mystery novels, which helped set the tone of mystery fiction for decades after their release — The Woman in White (1859) and The Moonstone (1868). You are encouraged to read either or both of older novels, then visit this very discussion post on the Just Desserts Blog and leave a comment in a response to that post, sharing your thoughts on whichever novel you sampled.
For those who are unfamiliar with Wilkie Collins, and these two novels, here’s some general background, and an overview of the novels:
From his Wikipedia entry: William Wilkie Collins (8 January 1824 – 23 September 1889) was an English novelist and playwright known for The Woman in White (1859), and for The Moonstone (1868), which has been posited as the first modern English detective novel. Born to the London painter William Collins and his wife, he moved with the family to Italy when he was twelve, living there and in France for two years and learning Italian and French. He worked initially as a tea merchant. After publishing Antonina, his first novel, in 1850, Collins met Charles Dickens, who became a friend and mentor. Some Collins work first appeared in Dickens’s journals Household Words and All the Year Round. They also collaborated on drama and fiction. Collins gained financial stability and an international following by the 1860s, but began to suffer from gout and became addicted to the opium he took for the pain, so that his health and writing quality declined in the 1870s and 1880s. Collins was critical of the institution of marriage: he split his time between widow Caroline Graves – living with her for most of his adult life, treating her daughter as his – and the younger Martha Rudd, by whom he had three children.
The Woman in White: This dramatic tale, inspired by an actual criminal case, is told through multiple narrators. Frederick Fairlie, a wealthy hypochondriac, hires virtuous Walter Hartright to tutor his beautiful niece and heiress, Laura, and her homely, courageous half sister, Marian Halcombe. Although Hartright and Laura fall in love, she honours her late father’s wish that she marry Sir Percival Glyde, a villain who plans to steal her inheritance. Glyde is assisted by sinister Count Fosco, a cultured, corpulent Italian who became the archetype of subsequent villains in crime novels. Their plot is threatened by Anne Catherick, a mysterious fugitive from a mental asylum who dresses in white, resembles Laura, and knows the secret of Glyde’s illegitimate birth. Through the perseverance of Hartright and Marian, Glyde and Fosco are defeated and killed, allowing Hartright to marry Laura.
(This description comes from the Encyclopedia Brittanica)
The Moonstone: Rachel Verinder, a young English woman, inherits a large Indian diamond on her eighteenth birthday. It is a legacy from her uncle, a corrupt British army officer who served in India. The diamond is of great religious significance and extremely valuable, and three Hindu priests have dedicated their lives to recovering it. The story incorporates elements of the legendary origins of the Hope Diamond (or perhaps the Orloff Diamond or the Koh-i-Noor diamond). Rachel’s eighteenth birthday is celebrated with a large party at which the guests include her cousin Franklin Blake. She wears the Moonstone on her dress that evening for all to see, including some Indian jugglers who have called at the house. Later that night the diamond is stolen from Rachel’s bedroom, and a period of turmoil, unhappiness, misunderstandings and ill luck ensues. Told by a series of narratives from some of the main characters, the complex plot traces the subsequent efforts to explain the theft, identify the thief, trace the stone and recover it. .
(This descriptions comes from the Wikipedia entry)
Catalog Links: The libraries own several editions of both of these novels, however they are also now in the public domain, and so many, many eBook versions proliferate throughout the electronic marketplace, at cheap rates or even as free editions.
During Just Desserts’ traditional end-of-year holiday hiatus in November and December 2019, we’re going to continue to remain active…but only in a virtual sense. During these two months, although we won’t be gathering for an in-person meeting, members are encouraged to read any of the 31 novels in any of three historical mystery series by Margaret Frazer, then visit this discussion post on the Just Desserts Blog, and leave a comment on Frazer and whichever series you sampled, as a response to this post.
For those who are unfamiliar with Margaret Frazer, here’s some general background, and an overview of her three series:
Margaret Frazer, born Gail Lynn Brown (November 26, 1946 – February 4, 2013), was an American historical novelist, best known for more than twenty historical mystery novels and a variety of short stories. The pen name was originally shared by Frazer and Mary Monica Pulver Kuhfeld in their collaboration on The Novice’s Tale, the first of the Sister Frevisse books featuring the Benedictine nun Dame Frevisse. Their collaboration came to an end with The Murderer’s Tale, the sixth book in the series. Starting with the Edgar Award-nominated The Prioress’ Tale, the Margaret Frazer pen name was used exclusively by Gail Frazer. She also wrote the Player Joliffe mysteries, starring the medieval actor Joliffe, and a trio of novels in the Bishop Pecock series.
Frazer was born and grew up in Kewanee, Illinois. An actress and member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, she lived and worked in Elk River, Minnesota. Frazer died February 4, 2013 from breast cancer, aged 66
The Sister/Dame Frevisse series (21 volumes): Frevisse is a nun at the small, fictional, 15th-century Oxfordshire convent of St. Frideswide’s, with its ten (more or less) nuns; the neighboring village of Prior Byfield belongs partly to the priory and partly to Lord Lovell (an historical figure). Six of the novels are set entirely at the priory and/or village; in others Frevisse leaves the convent, either to accompany another nun on some family or convent business or on business of her own. Many of the novels have the quality of “English village” murder mysteries, in which we see at close hand the everyday material life (and the intellectual and spiritual life) of various classes of people and observe the tensions within and between them; but here, the “everyday” is of the 15th century, carefully researched. Some of the later novels are primarily historical novels, in which Frevisse serves as an observer of the well-documented events and characters which brought on the Wars of the Roses, though there is always a murder for her to solve. Frevisse is related to Geoffrey Chaucer, author of the Canterbury Tales, by her aunt’s marriage to Geoffrey’s son, Thomas Chaucer. Titles of the Frevisse novels follow the format of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, e.g., The Novice’s Tale, The Prioress’s Tale. Each book begins with a chapter or passage focusing on the title character; this is followed by a change to Frevisse’s perspective, which dominates the novel, though we return from time to time to the point of view of the title character. The role of the title character varies from book to book: murderer, victim, a person in power or a victim of others’ power
The Joliffe the Player series (7 volumes): Frazer’s second set of mysteries, also set in 15th-century England, feature “Joliffe the Player”, a spin-off character from the Dame Frevisse series, appearing first in The Servant’s Tale and crossing paths with Frevisse again in The Prioress’s Tale, The Bastard’s Tale, and The Traitor’s Tale. The Joliffe series is set in the mid-1430s; thus these novels sometimes feel like “prequels” to his appearances in Dame Frevisse novels set in a later decade. The first three Joliffe novels present the life of an acting troupe traveling through the English countryside, with Lord Lovell as their patron after the end of the first novel. In the fourth, A Play of Lords, Joliffe is recruited as a spy for Bishop Beaufort and becomes involved in the political intrigues leading up to the Wars of the Roses. The fifth book, A Play of Treachery, takes him away from the players to France on behalf of Bishop Beaufort. When Joliffe again crosses paths with Dame Frevisse in The Traitor’s Tale, he is employed as a spy for the Duke of York, after the death of Bishop Beaufort.
The Bishop Pecock series (3 volumes): Come down the Paternoster Passage, cross the church’s yard, and knock on the doors of Master Whittington’s Almshouse. Master Pecock, a man of the cloth and the greatest detective of 15th century London, will answer your call.
(This above description comes (mostly) from the Wikipedia entry for Margaret Frazer)
Handout with plots of all 31 novels in all 3 of Margaret Frazer’s series — distributed at the October 2019 Just Desserts meeting.
Catalog Links: The libraries own several of the novels of Margaret Frazer, starting with The Novice’s Tale (1992) through Sins of the Blood (2012). The libraries own only scattered volumes from Frazer, in both print and digital formats but they are also commonly available in the used book market, or you can borrow her titles through our InterLibrary Loan service!