Saturday, July 10, 2010
For everyone who loves Jane Austen...a marvelously entertaining new series that turns the incomparable author into an extraordinary sleuth! On a visit to the estate of her friend, the young and beautiful Isobel Payne, Countess of Scargrave, Jane bears witness to a tragedy. Isobel's husband-a gentleman of mature years-is felled by a mysterious and agonizing ailment. The Earl's death seems a cruel blow of fate for the newly married Isobel. Yet the bereaved widow soon finds that it's only the beginning of her misfortune...as she receives a sinister missive accusing her and the Earl's nephew of adultery-and murder. Desperately afraid that the letter will expose her to the worst sort of scandal, Isobel begs Jane for help. And Jane finds herself embroiled in a perilous investigation that will soon have her following a trail of clues that leads all the way to Newgate Prison and the House of Lords-a trail that may well place Jane's own person in the gravest jeopardy.
It's been a number of years since I was ten years old and in the midst of my Nancy Drew fervor. It all started upon discovery of my mother's old blue Nancy's tucked away on a top shelf in our library at home. I devoured them all that year, relishing one mystery after another involving the adventures of Nancy and her faithful sidekicks, Bess and George. Time went by and before long I discovered Gone With the Wind and another obsession took root. Nancy was relegated to the top shelf again in lieu of Rhett Butler and ultimately Mr. Darcy. Still, I never forgot my love for those childhood mysteries and lately I've begun to pick them up again, only now I'm attracted to the historical mystery. Historical mysteries combine my love for historical fiction and romance with a resourceful and enterprising female sleuth, often with an enigmatic and brooding love interest thrown in to make it interesting. Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor is no exception.
First in a series of books featuring Jane Austen, author Stephanie Barron excels at making Jane a real living and breathing person. We all are familiar with the iconic portrait of Jane Austen, the beloved nineteenth century author and creator of the classic Pride and Prejudice who died too young of Addison's Disease. Yet, we don't know for certain a whole lot about her life, which conveniently leaves room for Barron to create a series that takes advantage of the missing gaps to create her mystery series.
The books are set up as if some missing letters written by Jane have been discovered roughly two hundred years later. The letters wind up telling the story from Jane's point of view of her visit to Scargrave Manor and the ensuing murders that follow. Scargrave Manor is the country home of her recently married friend, Isobel Payne, Countess of Scargrave who's husband has suddenly died one night after a ball they have given. Of course, Jane is there for her friend, particularly since Isobel is later accused of poisoning her husband the earl, as well as commiting adultery with the earl's heir who is accused of murdering her maid! Much complications and it seems hopeless for Isobel who is sent to Newgate Prison to await trial.
Jane is convinced her friend is innocent, yet how can she prove it and save her from hanging? Single-minded in her determination to find the real culprit, Jane doesn't always use the best judgment, nearly causing her own demise and complicating matters by falsely accusing the one man who is secretly helping in the cause. I admired Jane's resourcefulness while still retaining her ladylike behavior no matter what the situation. I also enjoyed the interaction she had with Lord Harold Trowbridge who seemed to pop up frequently just to annoy her and play the villain.
I enjoyed the various side characters throughout this mystery and recognized the makings of many a hero and heroine from her novels, cleverly wrought to indicate where she got her inspirations from, such as Fanny Delahoussaye, who I couldn't help comparing to what a young Mrs. Bennet or Lydia might have been like and the disagreable Lord Harold Trowbridge had the makings of a Mr. Darcy! Very well done and the period research, language and settings were first rate.
I do have one pet peeve, though minor, which was the need for so many footnotes, which I found a distraction, particularly on a kindle. They disrupted the flow of the story by flipping me forward and I'd get all lost and couldn't find my place again in the book! Finally, I stopped clicking on them and waited to read them when I came to the end of the chapter. Often they were interesting and informative (though I like to pride myself on the fact I knew a lot of them already). I would recommend if you are reading this on a kindle or some other ebook device, wait until the end of chapter to read them - or suffer the consequences!
Although the book got off to a slow start, by midpoint it really picked up and I got into it and was eager to finish and find out who the culprit was. This is a worthwhile series if you like historical mysteries and particularly if you are a Jane Austen fan. The author is faithful to her memory. The reader will recognize many lines and characters from her books, it's fun to spot them - as if we're in on an inside joke, although it is not a necessity to be a Jane afficianado in order appreciate the series, which I am told only gets better and better as it goes on. Enjoy!