Saturday, November 29, 2008

Jane Austen Mysteries

What's the common factor between Jane Austen and Miss Marple ? At first sight, nothing much, except if our Jane is transformed into the main sleuth of a detective novel thanks to a brilliant pen, that of Stephanie Barron. I've only read three Jane Austen Mysteries and I look forward to reading more.
It's a great series of books, that has a "new and improved" Jane who lives the true life of a detective. The attraction clearly resides in the biographical details perfectly digested by the author and the writing style that mimics Jane's own (without the humour though, which is a shame because that's definitely what I like best about Jane. Can't have it all I guess). The plots are gripping and realistic, the characters sound very familiar. Stephanie Barron has really managed to immerse herself into the atmosphere of the period during which Jane's books were written to lead us to another dimension, the one depicted in such studies as Jane Austen and Crime by Susannah Fullerton (published by Jones Books in 2006) in which the focus is the subtext, in which the author tries, all in all, to gather the most mundane, workaday, trivial, or even frightening in Jane's books (and if you don't know what I'm talking about, go rereading them, they're anything but cosy). That the wealth of entire families should depend on an economy of slavery is not nice. That a father should die leaving his wife and his daughters without a penny for themselves isn't nice either. It doesn't take much imagination to believe in the fact that Jane's friends and family could be great preys in a very unhealthy and dangerous 19th century. A murder has been committed and Jane investigates. The pattern might seem repetitive but it's actually not the case : as I said, the author does not betray Jane's biography and the protagonist evolves carried by her travels in new cities (the second novel opens in Bath). We meet Cassandra, the Reverend Austen, Jane gets down to the writing of The Watsons while focusing on her diary, true record of her macabre discoveries, her hunt for clues, her questionings, of her doubts and of her fears also. It's an amazing work the author has done on this series. Besides, I can only applaud the illustrator's job on the paperback covers : they are particularly clever. I have never really enjoyed the genre of the detective novel but I loved these Mysteries. They contain a great twist and are really beautifully done.

1. Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor
2. Jane and the Man of the Cloth
3. Jane and the Wandering Eye
4. Jane and the Genius of the Place
5. Jane and the Stillroom Maid
6. Jane and the Prisoner of Wool House
7. Jane and the Ghosts of Netley
8. Jane and His Lordship's Legacy
9. Jane and the Barque of Frailty