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Gail Lynn Frazer

Gail Lynn Frazer

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Obituary: Gail Frazer wrote medieval mysteries

  • Article by: JENNIFER BJORHUS
  • Star Tribune
  • February 12, 2013 - 5:47 PM

Gail Frazer's 25th novel, "The Circle of Witches," was finally published in December. It was her final book, but one that the Twin Cities author first drafted when her sons were young boys.

In fact, she considered the novel her first substantial book, said her sons, who are now in their 30s, and she returned to drafts of the book again and again over the years, reworking it.

"Of all her books, 'The Circle of Witches' was the one she considered perhaps the richest," said her son Justin Alexander of Minneapolis.

Frazer, who most recently lived in Edina, died Jan. 28 surrounded by family after a decades-long fight with recurring breast cancer. She was 66.

Known as Margaret Frazer to many of her fans, Gail Frazer lives on in a unique body of historical fiction that attracted a strong following. Almost all of her books were mysteries set in 15th-century England.

She won the Herodotus Award for one of her short stories and was nominated twice for the Edgar Award and twice for a Minnesota Book Award.

The first series, which began as a collaboration with Twin Cities mystery writer Mary Kuhfeld -- with both using the Margaret Frazer pen name at the time -- follows the adventures of Benedictine nun Dame Frevisse, a sleuth solving murders. Frazer's second series centered around a troupe of actors traveling the English countryside.

Pat Frovarp, co-owner of the Once Upon a Crime bookstore, said Frazer excelled in the medieval mystery subgenre and that her regular readings at the south Minneapolis bookstore were always popular.

"She's just a marvel," Frovarp said. "We had orders from England all the time. She's going to be sorely missed."

Frovarp said Frazer's books are becoming collectibles because they're so hard to find.

Kuhfeld, who collaborated with Frazer on the first six Dame Frevisse novels, described Frazer as funny, intelligent, driven and a stickler for historical accuracy. Frazer kept local weather reports from the 1400s, she said, and pored over the Oxford English Dictionary to hunt down the appropriate words from the era.

"We had such a super time together, even when we were quarreling about plots," Kuhfeld said. "Her vision was darker than mine."

Kuhfeld said she first met Frazer through the Society for Creative Anachronism, an international group that recreates the life of pre-17th-century England. There's a large membership in the Twin Cities, she said.

"We both put ourselves in the 15th century," she said. "You pick your century and create your character. I chose to be a nun. Gail was a merchant's widow, Ailis Fitzure of Yorkshire."

Yorkshire, with its green hills, was where Frazer felt most at home, said Kuhfeld.

Frazer was born in Kewanee, Ill., to a labor lawyer and homemaker. It was through Shakespeare and the theater that she fell in love with English history, her sons said, and she frequently traveled to England, where she once worked at a boarding school.

She met her former husband in the United States performing in plays, and the couple moved to Minnesota after he began studying computer science in Mankato. He eventually worked for IBM in Rochester. They separated around 1991 and eventually divorced. Frazer moved to Minneapolis, where she returned to the theater and worked as an extra in Guthrie performances.

Her sons recall a colorful childhood that included their mother clad in armor swinging a sword, crafting her own homemade toys for them and going to events where they ran around in medieval garb.

"That sort of joy of learning is probably the biggest gift she gave to us," Alexander said.

Frazer wrote this about herself in the biography on her website: "I write more days than not, and when once I moaned that 'I have to get a life,' my loving family informed me, 'You have one. It's in the 1400s.' That seems to sum up things rather nicely."

Frazer is survived by sons Justin Alexander and Seth Gupton, of Minneapolis, and her daughters-in-law. Services have been held..

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683

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