22 October 2008

Forgotten Books - QUIET AS A NUN, Antonia Fraser

Another contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books theme.

I imagine this photo of Lady Antonia Fraser was taken decades ago as she was born in 1932, so that makes her just a little bit younger than Ruth Rendell, and about 12 years younger than P.D. James.

I don't know whether I first came across her as a historian or as a mystery writer, but it is her crime fiction that I am going to talk about here. Between 1977 and 1994 she wrote a series of 8 novels that featured television reporter Jemima Shore. The early ones were adapted into a television series in 1983.

QUIET AS A NUN, published in 1977, begins with the death of a nun, Sister Miriam, who apparently starved herself to death in a ruined tower, known as the Tower of Ivory, which adjoins the grounds of the Convent of the Blessed Eleanor, a nunnery and girl's school. This was the school that Shore herself had attended, and the nun had been a former school friend. The tower has specific significance to the order, as it was the original convent building, and is thought to be haunted by the Black Nun, a malevolent spectre reputed to appear whenever a death is about to take place within the grounds, and is seen just prior to Sister Miriam's death. Jemima Shore is invited by the headmistress to investigate what made her friend take her own life.

I don't think I have read all the Jemima Shore books, but have certainly read a number of the short stories that feature her.

The Jemima Shore series (courtesy of Fantastic Fiction)
1. Quiet As a Nun (1977)
2. The Wild Island (1978)
aka Tartan Tragedy
3. A Splash of Red (1981)
4. Cool Repentance (1982)
5. Oxford Blood (1985)
6. Your Royal Hostage (1987)
7. The Cavalier Case (1990)
8. Political Death (1994)
Jemima Shore's First Case: And Other Stories (1986)
Jemima Shore At the Sunny Grave: And Other Stories (1991)
Quiet as a Nun / Tartan Tragedy / Splash of Red (omnibus) (2005)
Jemima Shore on the Case: Cool Repentence / Oxford Blood / Your Royal Hostage (omnibus) (2006)

What I remember about the Jemima Shore books was how readable they were. There were a number of women writers at this time who produced a similar style of books: Victoria Holt (who wrote also as Jean Plaidy, Philippa Carr), with a historical background, that diverted off into murder mysteries. Certainly in Fraser's style her gift for telling the story, shown so clearly in her very readable historical non-fiction, comes through in the lighter Jemima Shore novels.

In 1996, she also published a book entitled The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605, which won both the St Louis Literary Award and the Crime Writers' Association (CWA) Non-Fiction Gold Dagger.

Antonia Fraser, a daughter of the 7th Earl of Longford, and therefore Lady Antonia in her own right, was made CBE in 1999, and awarded the Norton Medlicott Medal by the Historical Association in 2000. Her second marriage was to the playwright Harold Pinter and she lives in London.


Marg said...

I don't think I knew that Antonia Fraser had written fiction as well as non-fiction!

Kerrie said...

There's often a historical link in the Jemima Shore ones too Marg. e.g. THE CAVALIER CASE is one you might like.
"In an unusual premise, long-dead viscount and Cavalier poet Decimus Meredith repeatedly exits his portrait on the wall to haunt his 20th-century heirs."

Marg said...

My library has a lot of these. I have requested this one, even though I hate reading books out of order in a series. We'll see how it goes.

pattinase (abbott) said...

She was very well-known for her mysteries at the time.

Scott D. Parker said...

The history part is what intrigues me as well as you saying you are also a historian. That's what my degrees say about me, too. I think I'll have to check these books out. And thanks for the handy list.

Barrie said...

I'm requesting this from my library. And the list is great!

Kerrie said...

From memory, the Jemima Shore stories often had a supernatural element (with a rational explanation).
THere are a quite a few mystery writers who were/are historians in real life I think, particularly those writing in the Tudor or medieval mystery vein. Must be soemthing to do with bringing the history to life

Anonymous said...

I have an omnibus of 3 of the Jemima Shore books (Cool Repentance, Oxford Blood and Your Royal Highness) listed to give away on my bookmooch profile http://bookmooch.com/bio/bsquared. It's a big book but I'll post it overseas if anyone from reading this blog would like it (I've simply GOT to get rid of some books).

David Cranmer said...

I agree with Scott. I love the history you have included with your review. I find that very informative and it intrigues me even more to check out the series. Thanks.

Kerrie said...

I've mooched it from you Bernadette


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