Friday, March 17, 2017

What I Read in March 2016 Part IV . . .

What I Read in March 2016 Part IV . . .

Jane and the Waterloo Map (Jane Austen Mysteries, #13)Jane and the Waterloo Map (Jane Austen Mysteries #13) by Stephanie Barron--Historical Mystery/Austenesque

While Jane is in London attending to the proofs of Emma and nursing her brother Henry, she is brought to the notice of Mr. Baillie, a Court Physician, who in turn brings her to the notice of such a person as the Prince Regent himself! Prince George and his daughter Princess Charlotte are big fans of Miss Austen's novels and Jane is invited to view the Regent's library with James Stanier Clarke, a clergyman and historiographer. While there, she discovers a man lying paralyzed and ill. While Mr. Clarke runs for help, Jane is left to clean up after the sick man and attend to him. Later, after the man has died, she is shocked to discover yew leaves in the handkerchief. If the man, Col. MacFarland, a war hero, vomited yew leaves, then surely someone must have poisoned him. Jane wonders whether the mysterious death has to do with his final words to her "Waterloo map." Indeed, Jane discovers the presence of such a map hidden in the library. It's a watercolor of the Russian front with a cypher on the back. Jane knows of only one man who can help solve the mystery, Mr. Raphael West. Mr. West is busy attending his ill and aged father, the famous painter Mr. Benjamin West, but not too busy to assist Jane. Together with the help of Col. MacFarland's former batman Spence and Jane's niece Fanny, they endeavor to solve the mystery.

This story starts off a little slow even after Jane discovers Col. MacFarland. It didn't get really good until about halfway through the book and then I couldn't put it down. I had an early guess as to who the villain was but played along and followed the clues as Jane uncovered them to another person. It seemed I was wrong and Jane was right. Then it seemed I was sort of right, but I was proven wrong again. I never guessed who the villain actually was. The reader can not guess the motivation without knowing the cypher so that made it extra difficult. There are so many twists and turns in this story that make it a fun adventure. Then there's also a mild romance between Fanny and the surgeon and of course Jane and Mr. West. Jane is wary, given her broken heart and Mr. West's time is not his own. Sadly, we know dear Jane only has a year and a half left to live but I hope Ms. Barron can squeeze in another adventure or find some way to continue the series. I have enjoyed Jane's adventures in detecting.

There are a couple of real life figures who appear in this novel and several made up. Among the real people are Mr. Clarke, a Mr. Collins-like clergyman who presumed to tell Jane how to write. He's very amusing and her letters to him are full of patience but you can tell she was laughing at him. There's also Mr. Baillie, the physician who brought her to the notice of the Regent. He seems like a good doctor. We don't know much of his personality. Jane, of course, is the central character. The character Jane seems in keeping with what we know about the real Jane Austen and the author had letters from this period to draw on and quote from. I'd like to think that the author captured Jane's feelings correctly but we will never know. She's certainly a sympathetic character and with the events that transpired to cause her worry at the end of the novel, I feel more in sympathy with her. Being a nearly 40-year-old spinster is not easy in any time, but was especially difficult in the 19th century.

Raphael West is an in-between character. He existed in real life but not much is known about him. Stephanie Barron portrays him as kind, caring and intelligent man. He's not as brooding as The Gentleman Rogue but he does have burdens to bear and as such, the relationship can not be. I like how this introduces a romance but as we know, Jane never married, so the complications work out with real life history. They're also incredibly realistic complications that could have prevented someone like Jane from marrying someone like Raphael. The characters here feel like real people because of their real life concerns.

As for fictional characters, we have Spence, the old batman. He's a hardened campaigner and loyal to his master. He is frustrated by the lack of understand his master's sister and her betrothed have for him, despite Lieutenant Dunross also being a veteran. Dunross is not a likable character. He's brusque and mysterious. We don't know why he was forbidden to marry MacFarland's sister and it is suspected that he has a shady past. Miss MacFarland is also not a likable character. At first she seems admirable, standing up for herself when callers are refused, but then she turns off Spence without a character and makes plans to marry Dunross. However, Barron's skill is in writing a good mystery and these characters are mixed up in the mystery somehow, some way and we only see the characters from Jane's point-of-view and what she's been told by others. We are never in their heads so we don't actually know what they're up to.

I wouldn't recommend starting at the end of the series. I would start at the beginning or start with the previous mystery and then read this one.

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