“It was a death that began it all and another death that led us on.”
There’s a whole sub-genre of medieval mystery novels, but there’s probably fewer medieval mystery novels about medieval mystery plays. Or in this case a mix of morality and mystery plays. Though I would bet within the 20 plus Brother Cadfael novels, there’s at least one about morality and mystery plays This is a short novel by Barry Unsworth, who won the Booker Prize for his very long novel Sacred Hunger, which is ostensibly about the Atlantic slave trade.
This novel begins with our narrator, a runaway priest deciding to hide out within the masked confines of a travelling theater company. It’s near the end of the 14th century, which puts in the middle of one of the waves of bubonic plague, which brings some untold horror to this novel, including very awful scene of someone describing the body of a recently deceased victim of the plague. The novel follows the travelling company for a bit, giving us some important context for their life on the road. One scene that I think is rendered very well involves the company setting up in the courtyard of an inn, having paid a booth fee to do so, only to find that leaderless bands of jugglers, acrobats, and dancing bears and other performers begin setting up having not paid the fee. Enlisting the innkeeper to secure the space for them only inspires him to gouge them more for a box office take.
The primary plot of the novel involves the death a local nobleman, and since this is a kind of mystery novel, the company performs of play that dramatizes the death in order to help reveal the killer. If that sounds familiar, well, it was in the air for a few hundred years, much like the plague.