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A Play of Isaac (Joliffe the Player, #1)
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A Play of Isaac

(Joliffe the Player #1)

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  995 ratings  ·  61 reviews

The year is 1434, and preparations are under way for the Corpus Christi festival in Oxford, England. Plays are a traditional part of the celebration, and Joliffe and the rest of his troupe are to perform Isaac and Abraham. Until then, their theatrical antics are in demand by a wealthy merchant who offers them an
Mass Market Paperback, 312 pages
Published August 3rd 2004 by Berkley
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Average rating 4.02  · 
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 ·  995 ratings  ·  61 reviews

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A band of traveling players make an arrangement to play for a local landowner in exchange for board until their upcoming Celebration they are playing. When a man is murdered and dumped outside the barn they are staying in, Joliffe investigates.

I love the historical detail of Margaret Frazer's works and this is no different. I like Joliffe and the players and enjoyed the dynamics.

This was the first in a new series and the mystery part was pretty week but will give it another shot.
Dec 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
A Play of Isaac is the first in the Joliffe series of mysteries.

Joliffe was introduced in Frazer's Dame Frevisse mysteries first as a member of a troupe of down--on-their-luck players and continues to pop up intermittantly in them.

In this story, taking place not long after the events that introduced them in 'The Servants Tale', the troupe is in Oxford. They have been invited to stay at the home of one of the merchants in exchange for some entertainment. To the troupe the
Jan 16, 2010 rated it it was ok
Poor. Slight and insubstantial. Very amateurish writing and with no sense of time and place. I'm sure she had done her research, but she had no feel at all for medieval England. Very much an American view of English history - very clean and cosy and everyone thinking and acting with modern view-points. Contrast with Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death books, which do have a real sense of period. Wouldn't read any more
Vicki Carlson
Sep 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really liked the characters and the background of this story. There's a level of detail about players in the 15th century that I found entertaining and informative. But the mystery is too small of a part of the story. I'll enjoy following the characters through the rest of the series, but I hope that mystery will be a larger part of the rest of the books.
Sep 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: in-library
Interesting premise, but we gave up partway through as the writing style was too awkward. It may have benefited from some ruthless editing. It's very hard to find a medieval mystery as good as Cadfael.
Meredith Galman
Oct 30, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: mysteries
Lackluster historical about an acting troupe in 1430s England. I gave it a try because I remember once liking Frazer's Dame Frevisse mysteries before I realized they were all the same, but neither time nor change of protagonist has improved her.
elizabeth mackessy-lloyd
Jan 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mysteries
Love this author and really love this character! Can't wait to read subsequent installments.
Jan 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Maybe 4 minus. Enjoyed book. Historical fiction a favorite. Like the medieval period. Having the main character be a traveling player interesting.
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: mysteriesforfun
Sweet but a bit of a snooze. The actual mystery is teeny tiny.
Anna Mussmann
Jun 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Summary: An overly-educated, traveling medieval player (actor) realizes that murder has been done.

As a sketch of medieval life in a college town, the book is enjoyable. The style is polite and peaceful-- so peaceful that nearly the entire volume is devoted to developing the characters and setting. Fortunately, the characters and setting are interesting enough to engage the reader until the end. Unfortunately the book is over-written: the author does not seem to believe that "showing is better t
John Lee
Apr 27, 2015 rated it liked it
I am not sure who/what pointed me towards this one but I am glad it/they did.
At almost 3 weeks, the book took me much longer to read than I would normally expected, especially with 2 long haul flights included which provided an extra 16 hours potential reading time.

Somehow the early story, although very readable didnt 'grab' me and maybe because of this read-a-bit-here-read-a-bit-there attitude to the book I tended to lose track of who was who, not only in the household but eve
Mike McAdam
Aug 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! I don't usually go for historical fiction but this was interesting and fun. It is about a troupe of actors in the 1400s that find a body on their doorstep (that is all you are getting - I don't do spoilers). The plot took some time to get going (like maybe 1/3 of the book before it starts) but the set up and characters and time period were all interesting so I wasn't bored waiting for the story to begin. There is a lot of set up. The characters are memorable and fun and the pl ...more
Cheri Edwards
Jul 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
I never thought that I would ever find a mediaeval / renaissance mystery novel that I could not complete reading. Got to page 126 and I couldn't take it saddens me that I didn't like the book. There is nothing wrong with the writing style.....I did have to get used to her style though. It just didn't move, stays in one place too long. I will try the 2nd book. I'm just so used to Edward Marstons novels on the same subject (acting troupe) The Nicholas Bracewell novels. I just about ...more
Oct 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This first in a series by Margaret Frazer, of the wonderful Sister Frevisse medieval mystery series, gets off to a bit of a slow start as she introduces the main characters and the setting, but is ultimately satisfying. I have started reading the second entry in the series. The central character in the series is the player Joliffe, whom we met along with Sister Frevisse. Frazer does a wonderful job of invoking medieval life (and traveling theatre), which is the chief attraction for me. She intro ...more
Oct 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
A group of traveling players are performing in a religious festival in Oxford. A merchant hires them to also stay at his house and perform for his guests before the festival. While there, they get caught up in the family dynamics there. Master Penteney has a married son and a single daughter, as well as two wards. The oldest of these is an 'Eden child', with what we call today Down's syndrome. The more deeply the players are drawn into the situation, the more complications are uncovered. And whe ...more
Sep 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: crime-historical
c2004: FWFTB: 1434, Oxford, merchant, players, Eden-child. The cover of the book that I have is completely different to the one on GR and I can only think that it was because the UK edition seems to have been published some time after the US edition. Very evocative and nice characters although I didn't 'love' any of them. The plot slowly winded to its conclusion but written in such a way that I couldn't describe it as a slow burn. Recommended to the normal crew. "He kept his outward smile but in ...more
Catherine  Mustread
The first of the mystery series set in 1434 England featuring Joliffe and a traveling troupe of actors. Love the historical details. The players are invited to stay for a few days with a family who has a grown disabled child then called an "Eden child" or an idiot. His great zest for life and love for performances is tied in with the mystery involving the death of a Lollard, a religious outcast, that has an underground and political connection.

Reading this series because of the connection with Shakes
Looking for a new historical fiction mystery series, I stumbled across this one and thought I would give it a try. I loved both the Gil Cunningham series the brother Cadfael series and seem to be caught up with both. Based on this first in Margaret Frazer's new series (I have not read the Dame Frevisse series), t believe I am going to enjoy this one every bit as much as the others. While I know next to nothing about medieval players, that's not an issue to understanding what is going on . The sm ...more
Sep 20, 2010 rated it liked it
Since they have no patron, a band of traveling players in 15th century England is vulnerable to accusation when a murdered man turns up outside their door. They are in Oxford to dramatize the story of Isaac and Abraham for the Corpus Christi festival, lodging with a wealthy family because their ward, who has Down's syndrome, is entranced by the players’ performance. One of the actors, Joliffe, who has a flair for adapting plays for their tiny troupe, also has knack for investigating murders. A w ...more
Sara Gale
Jul 13, 2016 rated it liked it
Very well written with lots of great description. I read the Dame Frevisse books awhile back, but couldn't get my hands on these at the time. I like Joliffe and his more-than-meets-the-eye character. I look forward to learning more about him.
One thing I really liked about the book is that it doesn't dwell on the grisly, lurid parts of the murders or paint everyone in black and white roles. It focuses on the characters, the motivations, and what is at stake for each person in light of the events
Martha Meyer
Jan 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I am loving learning about medieval drama while enjoying Joliffe's canny ways. The players are often performing plays from scripture (Abraham and Isaac in this case) which gets close to my interest in liturgical drama. This mystery was a good one in which we learn about medieval heresies and their impact on the population as well as various poisons, even those that just make you throw up! Love this series. This book is the first one in the series, but I loved A Play of Treachery too. A real lear ...more
Bonnie Jeanne
Jan 01, 2012 rated it liked it
15th century setting for the cozy mystery reader. I read many series, but the cover art and setting attracted me to this book 7 years ago, and it finally reached the top of my To Be Read pile.

The story of a band of traveling actors and a murder most mysterious is interesting enough, and the historical references are curious enough that I put the book down to research a few so I had more background for the story. I like fiction that makes me curious about history. However, there are no twists, a
Jan 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
In mid-fifteenth century England, a band of traveling players are performing at the behest of a patron. Unfortunately, soon after their arrival, murder and mayhem take center stage. One of the thespians, Joliffe, uncovering a web of deceit involving religious heresy and financial shenanigans, works to solve the mystery. I loved this historical who-done-it for its glimpse into the past, it's humorous tone and the inclusion of a character with Downs' syndrome. Yay - another series to continue on w ...more
May 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
Although I'm a a bigger fan of the Sister Frehisse ? mysteries, I did enjoy the fact that Johiffe, from the earlier series, allows me to enter other medieval worlds than were available through Sister Frehisse. This one gives us a set of charcters, the players, a bit of their background, and a vast insight (from one who is not a Medievalist) into the socioeconomic structure and way of life of traveling players, from props, costumes, scripwriting, directing, and payment. The "murder" seemed almost ...more
Timothy VanderWall
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mystery
An excellent start to a spin-off from Frazer's Sister Fravisse stories. It follows Thomas Bassett's players as they present their plays in Oxford, England in 1434 and stumble upon a murder. Even though the murder isn't discovered until page 116 of 312, the descriptions of 15th century Oxford and its inhabitants along with the intricacies of play presentation didn't dissuade me from continuing to read. If you like Dame Fravisse, you'll love this series.
Mary Munroe
Feb 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! My field of study in graduate school was medieval mystery plays, and I was delighted to see them used as backdrop for this novel. Despite the fact that most of the plays were much longer than is pictured here,even taking into account that the play was modified to fit the small cast, Margaret Frazer makes the medieval atmosphere in which the plays were performed come alive. I plan to read more of the series.
Dennis Fischman
Sep 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, mystery
This was a fine look at the life of traveling actors during the Middle Ages, and a nice start to a series featuring Joliffe (who was a recurring minor character in the Dame Frevisse series). The mystery was slight, and the solution, even more so. I would also have liked to have been told what the Lollard heresy was about, but these days it's easy to look it up for oneself.
Jul 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Setting a series outside the cloister (see Dame Frevisse novels for that!) gives Margaret Frazer the ability to explore a fleshier, more venal side of the world. The troupe of players - whose relationships to each other are subtly shifted from when they were introduced in Frazer's A Servants Tale - are well drawn and give a sense of the values of everyday folk. Their need to study their audience also makes them good window's for readers to get insight into the medieval world.
Carole Moran
Sep 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
I love Frazer's "Joliffe" series about a group of traveling actors in 15th century England. Joliffe, the main character, is the crime solver of the group, usually as a necessity to get the players out of trouble and safely out of town. A good depiction of daily life for rootless people in that era.
Ed Mestre
Sep 26, 2012 rated it liked it
A pleasing little medieval who-done-it. Since a murder doesn't occur until about a third of the way through the book makes the mystery almost secondary to the setting & history of Oxford at the time of Lollardry. And the troupe of roving actors were a delightful group of central characters to spend time with & I wouldn't mind revisiting them in another well told tale.
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Margaret Frazer is a pen name used at first by Mary Monica Pulver Kuhfeld and Gail Lynn Frazer writing in tandem for a series of historical medieval mysteries featuring Dame Frevisse. After the sixth novel, the works are written by Gail Frazer alone, and the name has subsequently been used exclusively by her. A second series of novels by Ms Frazer set in the same time and place feature the player/minstre ...more

Other books in the series

Joliffe the Player (7 books)
  • A Play of Dux Moraud (Joliffe the Player, #2)
  • A Play of Knaves (Joliffe the Player, #3)
  • A Play of Lords (Joliffe the Player, #4)
  • A Play of Treachery (Joliffe the Player, #5)
  • A Play of Piety (Joliffe the Player, #6)
  • A Play of Heresy (Joliffe the Player, #7)