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Jane and the Cantebury Tale by Stephanie Barron: A Review

Jane and the Canterbury Tale
by Stephanie Barron

A review by Laurel Ann Nattress

There is a trail that winds through the edge of the grand country estate of Godmersham Park in Kent owned by Edward Austen-Knight, elder brother of the authoress Jane Austen. Pilgrims have traversed this foot-path for centuries on their way to the shrine of the martyr Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. Chaucer based his famous narrative, The Canterbury Tales, on pilgrims who travel across this path. Author Stephanie Barron places her eleventh novel in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery series in this rich, historical environment and spins a fascinating murder mystery to rival any story offered by the Knight, the Nun or the Miller in Chaucer’s original.

In the fall of 1813, while visiting her wealthy, widowed brother Edward at his grand estate in Kent, Jane attends a wedding at the neighboring Chilham Castle. Joined that day in connubial bliss are the beautiful young widow, Adelaide Fiske, and the dashing Captain Andrew McCallister. Jane’s young niece Fanny Austen-Knight is also in attendance and being courted by a queue of eager Beaux. While locals John Plumptre, James Wildman and George Finch-Hatton watch her dance the waltz with visiting dandy Julian Thane, a footman delivers a curious gift to the bride, a silken reticule that she accepts with some trepidation. Inside are dried brown beans. Jane is quick to observe that the bride’s reaction must have some hidden meaning.

The following morning a man is found dead upon the pilgrim’s path on the Godmersham estate near the ancient parish church dedicated to St Lawrence the Martyr. At first it is thought that he was felled by a stray hunting shot by one of the young local men out for a mornings sport of pheasant, but Jane sees the signs of an entirely different transgression. Her brother Edward, First Magistrate for Canterbury, is called to the scene and concurs that this was no hunting accident. The corner arrives to offer his assessment and soon discoveres that the deceased is none other than Curzon Fiske, the thought to be dead first husband of the recently married Adelaide, who after abandoning his wife in a flight from his creditors four years prior, departed for India and died there. Inside the depths of his coat pocket was a stained note with St Lawrence Church written upon it and one dried brown bean – an ominous tamarind seed.

As the mystery swiftly unfolds we are privy to an interesting collection of characters who each have their own tale to tell: a grieving widower, a young girl experiencing romance and heartbreak, an odious clergyman, a Bond Street Beau, a loose maid, a callous and calculating mother, and our adventurous detective Jane Austen, ever observant, always witty, relaying all of their stories in her journal and cleverly solving the crime.

Each chapter is epigraphed by pertinent quotes from Chaucer’s tale and every word of this novel is a treasure. Barron is a Nonpareil in channeling my dear Jane. After eleven novels I never doubt her historical detail or unerring voice. This may be the last in the series, and I am sorely grieved at the loss. Jane and the Canterbury Tale is engaging, rich and dramatic. The ending is a shock, but not nearly as devastating as the possibility of the demise of this series.

RRP: £9.27
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Bantam (30 Aug 2011)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0553386719
ISBN-13: 978-0553386714

 


A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the editor of Austenprose.com and the forthcoming short story anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It to be released by Ballantine Books on 11 October, 2011. Classically trained as a landscape designer at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, she has also worked in marketing for a Grand Opera company and at present delights in introducing neophytes to the charms of Miss Austen’s prose as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives near Seattle, Washington where it rains a lot.

 

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Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron: A Review

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron: Being a Jane Austen Mystery
By Stephanie Barron

A Review by Laurel Ann Nattress
One thinks of Jane Austen as a retiring spinster who writes secretly, prefers her privacy and enjoys quiet walks in the Hampshire countryside. Instead, she has applied her intuitive skills of astute observation and deductive reasoning to solve crime in Stephanie Barron’s Austen inspired mystery series. It is an ingenious paradox that would make even Gilbert and Sullivan green with envy. The perfect pairing of the unlikely with the obvious that happens occasionally in great fiction by authors clever enough to pick up on the connection and run with it.

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron marks Stephanie Barron’s tenth novel in the best-selling Jane Austen Mystery series. For fourteen years, and to much acclaim, she has channeled our Jane beyond her quiet family circle into sleuthing adventures with lords, ladies and murderers. Cleverly crafted, this historical detective series incorporates actual events from Jane Austen’s life with historical facts from her time all woven together into mysteries that of course, only our brilliant Jane can solve.

It is the spring of 1813. Jane is home at Chawton Cottage “pondering the thorny question of Henry Crawford” in her new novel Mansfield Park and glowing in the recent favorable reception of Pride and Prejudice. Bad news calls her to London where her brother Henry’s wife Eliza, the Comtesse de Feuillde, is gravely ill. With her passing, Jane and Henry decide to seek the solace and restorative powers of the seaside selecting Brighton, “the most breathtaking and outrageous resort of the present age” for a holiday excursion.

At a coaching Inn along the way they rescue Catherine Twining, a young society Miss found bound and gagged in the coach of George Gordon, the 6th Baron of Byron, aka Lord Byron, the notorious mad, bad and dangerous to know poet. Miffed by their thwart of her abduction, Byron regretfully surrenders his prize to Jane and Henry who return her to her father, General Twining, in Brighton. He is furious and quick to fault his fifteen year-old daughter. Jane and Henry are appalled at his temper and concerned for her welfare.

Settled into a suite of rooms at the luxurious Castle Inn, Jane and Henry enjoy walks on the Promenade, fine dining on lobster patties and champagne at Donaldson’s and a trip to the local circulating library where Jane is curious to see how often the “Fashionables of Brighton” solicit the privilege of reading Pride and Prejudice! Even though Jane loathes the dissipated Prince Regent, she and Henry attend a party at his opulent home the Marine Pavilion. In the crush of the soirée, Jane again rescues Miss Twining from another seducer.

Later at an Assembly dance attended by much of Brighton’s bon ton, Lord Byron reappears stalked by his spurned amour, “the mad as Bedlam” Lady Caroline Lamb. Even though the room is filled with beautiful ladies he only has eyes for Miss Twining and aggressively pursues her. The next morning, Jane and Henry are shocked to learn that the lifeless body of a young lady found in Byron’s bed was their naïve new friend Miss Catherine Twining! The facts against Byron are very incriminating. Curiously, the intemperate poet is nowhere to be found and all of Brighton ready to condemn him.

 

‘Henry grasped my arm and turned me firmly back along the way we had come. “Jane,” he said bracingly, “we require a revival of your formidable spirit – one I have not seen in nearly two years. You must take up the role of Divine Fury. You must penetrate this killer’s motives, and expose him to the world.”’ [page 119]

And so the game is afoot and the investigation begins…

It is great to have Jane Austen, Detective back on the case and in peak form. Fans of the series will be captivated by her skill at unraveling the crime, and the unindoctrinated totally charmed. The mystery was detailed and quite intriguing, swimming in red herrings and gossipy supposition. Pairing the nefarious Lord Byron with our impertinent parson’s daughter was just so delightfully “sick and wicked.” Their scenes together were the most memorable and I was pleased to see our outspoken Jane give as good as she got, and then some. Readers who enjoy a good parody and want to take this couple one step further should investigate their vampire version in Jane Bites Back.

Barron continues to prove that she is an Incomparable, the most accomplished writer in the genre today rivaling Georgette Heyer in Regency history and Austen in her own backyard. Happily readers will not have to wait another four years for the next novel in the series. Bantam is publishing Jane and the Canterbury Tale next year with a firm commitment of more to follow. Huzzah!

Publisher:Bantam Books (2010)
Trade paperback
(352) pages
ISBN:
978-0553386707


 

A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the editor of Austenprose.com and the forthcoming short story anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It to be released by Ballantine Books in October, 2011. Classically trained as a landscape designer at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, she has also worked in marketing for a Grand Opera company and at present delights in introducing neophytes to the charms of Miss Austen’s prose as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives near Seattle, Washington where it rains a lot.

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