by Barry Unsworth
1995 / 207 pages
rating – 8.75 / historical fiction -crime
Unsworth is a master of historical fiction and Morality Ply is likely one of his best. Taking place in northern England of the 14th century, the story is told in 1st person by a runaway monk, Nicholas Barber. Barber is taken in by a group of traveling “players” who perform morality plays throughout the area. They need him because one of their members has suddenly died of the plague and he needs to be replaced. The 6 men and a woman then find themselves virtually destitute in a town where a murder has just been committed and a young woman set to hang for it. The players decide to perform a play about the murder which leads to all sorts of complex philosophical issues as well as a considerable amount of detective work.
I really enjoyed this one, the plot is kind of grim and the themes are serious, but the tone of the book certainly didn’t strike me as depressing. The setting was outstandinig, I was transported to a time when folks believed different things than we do today, much of their world was governed by power, corruption and superstition and Unsworth developed that very effectively. The characters in the group of players were fun, likeable, while the others were nicely drawn.