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The Bastard's Tale: A Dame Frevisse Medieval Mystery    by Margaret Frazer order for
Bastard's Tale
by Margaret Frazer
Order:  USA  Can
Prime Crime, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

With deep reluctance Dame Frevisse leaves peaceful St. Frideswides for Bury St. Edmunds, site of a meeting of Parliament. Ostensibly seeing to the awarding of a gift of land to her nunnery, she is in reality being sent on order of the politically acute Bishop Beaufort, who values the acuity of her observations and mind, and who knows that her connection to Alice, Duchess of Suffolk (Frevisse's cousin) will ensure her presence in the heart of the political manoeuvrings.

The situation is complex indeed, with much at stake. The Duke of Gloucester, uncle to the young king, is en route to Bury St. Edmunds in hopes of winning pardon for his disgraced wife. His return to favour is much dreaded by his rivals, including the Duke of Suffolk. Almost immediately, schemes to discredit Gloucester are set in motion. Young Arteys, the titular bastard, is Gloucester's illegitimate son. Caught in the tortuous plots, he struggles to extricate himself and save his father. Alas, the plots have been carefully conceived, and the men who are conniving at his father's ruin seem to have success in their grasp.

Other powerful forces oppose Gloucester's enemies, although they are not necessarily his friends. Rather, these men fear the consequences if Gloucester's foes succeed in their aims. When Dame Frevisse meets young Arteys and learns more of the underhanded schemes aimed at Gloucester's ruination, she is outraged, particularly as the perpetrators have no qualms about committing murder.

The Bastard's Tale is enthralling reading, especially as the author has included historical characters. Gloucester, Suffolk, Arteys, Beaumont, and other personages in the novel are real people; and Frazer treads a careful path in weaving the factual with fiction. She also reminds us that 1447 is a dangerous time to live. The horrors that await Gloucester and his adherents are barbaric; that Gloucester's foes do not scruple to entrap innocent men hardens Dame Frevisse's resolve. She goes to desperate lengths to attempt to save them and shows us the strength of her convictions as well as her character.

The author's historical notes appended at the end were helpful, as I like to know what is real and what is fictional. All in all, this novel upholds Frazer's well-deserved reputation for excellence.

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