Monday, 30 January 2017

The First Murder by The Medieval Murderers

The pen name of "The Medieval Murderers" hides five historical mystery writers, all members of the Crime Writers Association (Bernard Knight, Ian Morson, Philip Gooden, Susanna Gregory and Karen Maitland). It seems this is not the first book they write. I find information on another seven books they have written together. This book is not exactly what I expected (more of real time medieval murders), but turned out to be quite interesting and enjoyable. The more you get into it, the more difficult it is to put down.

The story covers the period from 1154 to 1944 and the theme is the same. Can a play possibly be cursed? It definitely seems like it. Every time The Play of Adam is enacted, somebody dies. The drama is divided into a Prologue and Epilogue with Four acts in between. The programme reads as follows:

Prologue - In which Ian Morson tells of Prior Wigod of Oseney Priory writing The Play of Adam, and how the world's first murder - of Abel by his brother Cain - is enacted with equally murderous results (1154)

Act One - In which Susanna Gregory relates how The Play of Adam travels from Oxford to Carmarthen in the year 1199, and the castle's constable and his wife encounter murder among rival clerics (1199).

Act Two - In which Karen Maitland tells how the townspeople of Ely fear that The Play of Adam has unleashed a demon upon the town, after a gruesome discovery is made in the cathedral (1361)

Act Three - In which Philip Good tells the story of a playwright who wishes to obtain revenge on William Shakespeare and comes to an unfortunate end, while player Nick Revill faces the secret agents of the Privy Council (somewhere between 1603-1616).

Act Four - In which Ian Morson writes about Doll Pocket satisfying her yearning to become an actress, while Joe Malinferno struggles with the mystery of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Unfortunately, the rehearsals for the newly discovered Play of Adam result in a murder. But has it to do with thespian jealousies, or something much more arcane? (1821)

Epilogue - In which Bernard Knight recounts how The Play of Adam is revived by an academic department during the Second World War, which provides an unexpected finale (1944).

This is a cleverly written book. As you can understand from the above The Play of Adam is in the centre of the story, travelling merciless through time. Whenever it is played, somebody dies. Already in 1199, Prior Alan knew that the play was cursed and he took his steps to never let it be played again.

"Brother Stephen, choose two of our younger brethren. Tell them they must be ready to leave Ely at dawn. They must take this scroll straight to the Benedictine House at Westminster, and give it into the hand of the abbot. He's an old friend of mine. He will understand my warning. …
'If God wills it, this Play of Adam might for once save two young lives instead of taking them.' 
He handed the scroll to Stephen, who looked down at the words his superior had written. 
In that this scroll contains Holy Writ, you shall not suffer it to be destroyed. Yet neither shall you break the seal upon it, lest fools and knaves make of it swords to slay the innocent and infect man's reason with the worm of madness.
Alan of Walsingham, Prior of Ely."

Well, obviously the play found its way out from the hidden archives. As it travels through history you get historical notes after each act. Upon these notes the authors have woven their stories. It is quite fascinating and I really enjoyed this book. On top of it, it has a great ending. A different kind of mystery, and really enjoyable. If you like history and historical fiction it is a great read.

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