Sunday, December 4, 2011

Jane Austen Mystery series

Jane Austen Mystery series by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor: Being the First Jane Austen Mystery
Miss Jane Austen, spinster, of Bath is visiting her dear friend Isobel, the new Countess of Scargrave during the holiday season. Jane looks forward to enjoying a holiday house party celebrating her friend's recent nuptials to the older Earl of Scargrave, only something is amiss. Isobel seems unhappy. She is being pestered to sell her land in the West Indies to Lord Harold Towbridge, a disreputable seeming character. Lord Scargrave's haughty heir, Lord Fitzroy Payne, looks at Isobel in a very un-relative like fashion. Isobel's young cousin Fanny flirts with the charming roguish Lieutenant Thomas Hearst much to the dismay of her Mama who wishes her to marry Fitzroy. Rounding out the party is the Lieutenant's gloomy elder brother George, a clergyman farmer. When dear Isobel's husband is murdered it seems that everyone is a suspect. Isobel and Fitzroy's relationship is suspect and when Isobel's Creole maid meets an unhappy end, the young nobles are sent to London to await the Assizes in jail. Jane is positive her friend is innocent and determined to prove it. She has only a few days to collect evidence and find the true murderer. Everyone has a motive but whodunnit?This story resembles the board game Clue. Was it Fanny in the stable yard with a rope? Was it George in the study with poison? Sleuth Jane to the rescue. I enjoyed this story a lot. Jane works within the boundaries of her world with the help of some men to solve the mystery. I had three chief suspects and figured out who the murderer was but not the motive. Everyone seemed to have an obvious motive and the actual motive came as a bit of a surprise out of nowhere. Jane learns a lot of things about people that make it into her stories. I dislike the use of dialogue and situations from her novels being put into her life story. This is the best written of the mysteries I have read so far and the most realistic for a woman of Jane Austen's time and situation.

Jane and the Man of the Cloth: Being the Second Jane Austen Mystery

This second mystery brings the Austens to Lyme for a holiday. Jane is looking forward to getting away from Bath and exploring the coast but their journey starts off badly when the carriage overturns her Jane's beloved sister Cassandra sustains an injury to the head. Jane and the post-boy head up the hill to the nearest house for help. They are met by the rudest man Jane has ever met, Mr. Geoffrey Sidmouth, who is less than happy to have the Austens as uninvited guests. Living with Mr. Sidmouth is a lovely French girl who is dressed as a peasant who the gossips believe is Sidmouth's mistress. Cassandra receives excellent care under the excellent surgeon's assistant Mr. William Dalgiesh who falls instantly in love with Cassandra. The Austens believe the rest of their stay will be enjoyable and maybe even a hint of romance will be in the air. Rev. Austen makes a friend of Mr. Crawford, a fossil expert and Jane makes the acquaintance of the local tabbies and one dashing wounded ex-Naval Lieutenant Fielding . When Jane is rudely awakened early one morning from some noisy men on the Cobb, she discovers a man hanging from a makeshift gallows. Liuet. Fielding believes the hanging to be the work of the so-called "Reverend" the chief smuggler in the area. Lieut. Fielding is on a mission to catch the Reverend and put him away for good. He insinuates that Sidmouth is the Reverend and certainly the man's uncivil and mysterious behavior gives him cause for suspicion. Yet, Jane seems something in Sidmouth that others do not. He too seems charmed by her unconventionality. When Fielding is discovered dead on the road, Sidmouth is arrested. Jane becomes involved in investigating the murder. She has a personal interest in the matter for she may be losing her heart to Sidmouth. Investigating the shore leads to clues which lead Jane down an unexpected path towards solving the murder. The story starts off slow and picks up about 1/3 of the way into the book. This mystery is very obvious to anyone who has read Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. I figured out the characters based on their Jane Austen counterpart and I guessed the villain. The villain rather exposed themselves early on in Jane's investigation and I think in real life she would have been smart enough to figure everything out more quickly.  I dislike the way Jane goes off on her own to investigate and there are some instances where she would have ruined her reputation in real life. The footnotes are a bit overdone but not too much. I learned a few new things about Lyme and Jane Austen's time. I would recommended skipping this mystery and going on to the third except for a key scene at the end which sort of explains why Jane is where she is in the third mystery.

Jane and the Wandering Eye : Being the Third Jane Austen Mystery

Jane, her brother Henry and his wife Eliza are invited to a masquerade party in honor of a troop of actors come to Bath. Jane is tagging along with her more well-to-do relatives to keep an eye on the hostess's granddaughter, Lady Desdemona. Jane was asked specifically by The Gentleman Rogue to look after his niece, who is trying to avoid the man she has just jilted. Just as one of the well-known actors finishes declaiming a speech from Macbeth, the dead body of the theater manager is discovered! When Lady Desdemona's brother is found with the bloody knife in his hand, he is immediately suspect, though he swears he didn't do it. Gentleman Rogue, Lord Harold Towbridge to the rescue! he arrives in Bath hunting for clues and discovers that his nephew recovered a miniature portrait of an eye from the dead body. The portrait leads to more clues and an list of suspects that includes everyone from actors to artists to peers of the realm. Jane tags along to help figure out the clues to the mystery. This being my second Jane Austen mystery, I found that I did not enjoy it as much as the first. There were far too many characters introduced too quickly to keep track of. Many of those characters become suspects in the murder mystery and I found myself trying to figure out who they were and what their motive would be. I did guess the villain right away but not the motive. The motive was unusual and not explained very well. There really wasn't any good reason for murder. I also did not like real life characters and events playing into the story. It lacked credibility. I do not have a problem with the sentence structure so far but those not familiar with 18th and 19th century writing may find it difficult. I still am bothered by the footnotes, which in this book are mostly unnecessary. Using a rating of 1-5, I would give it perhaps a 3 1/2 or 4.

Jane and the Genius of the Place : Being the Fourth Jane Austen Mystery

Jane is on the move again. This time she is at the Canterbury Races in Kent with her brother Edward and his family. Also at the races is the scandalous Mrs. Grey, a Frenchwoman who has captured the interest of many of the men in Kent but not many of the ladies. Scandalous Mrs. Grey is rumored to have had numerous affairs while her husband was occupied with business in London. Mrs. Grey gives rise to the rumors when she is seen hitting a gentleman with her riding crop. Later she is seen entering a neighbor's carriage and then following the horses as they race. Finally, she is discovered dead in the neighbor's carriage, strangled to death with her own hair ribbon and wearing only her shift. As Justice of the Peace, Neddie Austen is charged with finding the murderer and bringing them to justice. He immediately suspects the neighbor in whose carriage Mrs. Grey was found, but isn't positive. Neddie needs Jane's help to solve the mystery of the murdered woman. Among the other suspects are Mr. Grey who is said to have had little affection for his wife, Neddie's impecunious brother-in-law Edward, Edward's military friend, a timid governess, a dashing French count and a genius of a landscape architect. This mystery can probably be figured out in part by those who have read any number of novels, include Miss Austen's own. Some situations and conversations appear in her novels, a joke which I really wish the author would abandon. It makes the mystery way too obvious. I figured out the what but not the why or who. The why was a bit confusing and seemed to be summarized far too quickly and wrap up too neatly. As usual there's a bit too much history tossed in and some pointless conversations between characters that seem to go nowhere though actually lead to clues. I'm not a big fan of the footnotes and usually the reader can figure out the context just by reading the story. An author's note would better explain the history behind the story but as Barron is writing as an editor of Austen's journals, I see why she chooses to add footnotes. I like Jane the character a lot. She's intelligent and witty and she refuses to be pressured into being someone she's not. The mysteries are a lot of fun and I look forward to reading the rest.

Jane and the Stillroom Maid: Being the Fifth Jane Austen Mystery

Jane, Mrs. Austen and Cassandra are still making a tour of various relatives before settling down with Frank in Southhampton. This time they are visiting cousin Edward Cooper. The Cooper family becomes afflicted with whooping cough so Edward must take his relations off on a tour of Derbyshire. Jane heads off to explore the peaks while the gentlemen fish and Mrs. A and Cassandra rest at the inn. While exploring, Jane comes across her most gruesome murder yet. She discovers the body of a young gentleman with a bullet hole to his forehead and a badly mutilated body. Cousin Edward's friend Mr. Hemming lends his assistance in bringing the body back to town. The locals believe the crime is the work of the local branch of Freemasons based on rumors and superstition of devil worship and Satanic sacrifice. When the coroner/surgeon examines the body it is found to be that of a young female named Tess Arnold who worked as a stillroom maid at the home of Mr. Charles Danforth, a grieving widower with a club foot. The locals all fear Mr. Charles Danforth is cursed or worse since his entire family has recently deceased. They believe he is the murderer and want him hanged. Jane is disturbed by the grisly murder and determined to see justice done. Lord Harold, her gentleman rogue, shows up in Derbyshire to mourn the loss of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire. His niece, Desdemona is also there and desires to see Jane again. Jane heads off to the luxe Chatsworth estate and finds herself socializing with the scandalous Cavendish set. At Chatsworth Jane discovers an unhappy situation and fears that the clues may lead to the murder of the maid. With the help of the maid's stillroom book, Jane manages to solve the murder but not before more death and unhappiness visit the area. This story is the best mystery yet. It introduces the murder and suspects right away. Just when the answer seems obvious, the story takes twists and turns. The motive and murderer were pretty obvious but the clues left me in doubt until all was revealed. I liked having an intimate glimpse of Chatsworth and the Duke's family whom I know a little about from the Keira Knightly movie The Duchess. I was happy to have Lord Harold return to help Jane solve the investigation but I did not like that she loses her heart to him and nearly succumbs to the desire to live the life of the ton. That does not fit with the Jane that is depicted in the previous books and very unlike the real Jane. I absolutely loved the stillroom recipes included at the end of each chapter. There was very little knowledge about medicine in those days and even the descriptions of the doctor's care are cringeworthy. An editor's afterward names the sources of stillroom medicine from Jane Austen's time and explains what happened to the Duke of Devonshire and family after the events of the novel.


I believe that the doctor killed the family unknowingly with all that bleeding. That subject was never addressed in the editor's afterward.

Jane and the Prisoner of the Wool House : Being the Sixth Jane Austen Mystery
Jane, her mother, her sister and their friend Martha Lloyd have removed to Southampton to live with her brother Frank's bride Mary. Frank is on shore too, hoping for the Royal Navy to grant him a fast sonhip. Frank's wish is about to come true - he will soon be granted command of the Stella Maris. Unfortunately, the promotion for Frank comes at the sacrifice of his friend, Captain Seagrave, who is under arrest for murder of the French captain whose ship the Stella Maris had overcome.Captain Seagrave has been accused by his Lieutenant, Eustace Chessyre, who should have stood by him. Frank knows his friend and knows that Tom Seagrave would never have violated the Articles of War by killing a surrendering captain. As the people of Portsmouth turn against Captain Seagrave, only Frank remains loyal. Jane, being possessed of a  "fine naval fervour" also believes that Captain Seagrave is innocent. Jane, having the opportunity to employ herself as a nurse in the Wool House, where French prisoners of war are kept, decides to investigate the murder to find clues that will exonerate Captain Seagrave. Jane's investigation takes her from Captain Seagrave's home, to the Wool House, the docks and the slums of Portsmouth. Jane's search brings her in contact with a prisoner-of-war French surgeon who seems to have some answers, if only he will testify and only if she and Frank can keep him safe, for when Lieutenant Chessyre turns up dead, it becomes clear that someone wants the witnesses out of the way. This being my first Jane Austen mystery I did not know what to expect. The author writes in the style of Jane Austen, alluding to the fact that the novel is an edited version of a long lost manuscript written by Jane Austen. I really liked the way Barron copied Jane Austen's style of writing and I also loved that Barron obviously did a ton of research to write the novel. However, I think she included far too many historical details, some of which she felt the need to add a footnote to further clarify. Those who are familiar with Jane Austen's life and times probably will not need the footnotes. The story is very slow to start but once Jane began her investigation, the story captured my attention and I couldn't do anything until she had solved the mystery. There are many twists and turns in this book that I never suspected. Like Jane, I jumped to a lot of conclusions, having read too many "dreadful novels." The ending is really rushed and I felt like more explanation was needed. I highly doubt that Jane Austen herself would have been running all over Portsmouth (often by herself!) trying to solve a murder mystery but it's fun to think that she would have if she could. I would recommend this book to Janeites that don't take their favorite author too seriously and also fans of Georgette Heyer's mysteries and traditional Regency novels. On a scale of 1-5 I would give this a 4 or 4 1/4.

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