by Stephanie Barron
Series: Jane Austen Mystery #12
Publication Date: October 1, 2014
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Soho Press
Christmas Eve, 1814: Jane Austen has been invited to spend the holiday with family and friends at The Vyne, the gorgeous ancestral home of the wealthy and politically prominent Chute family. As the year fades and friends begin to gather beneath the mistletoe for the twelve days of Christmas festivities, Jane and her circle are in a celebratory mood: Mansfield Park is selling nicely; Napoleon has been banished to Elba; British forces have seized Washington, DC; and on Christmas Eve, John Quincy Adams signs the Treaty of Ghent, which will end a war nobody in England really wanted.
Jane, however, discovers holiday cheer is fleeting. One of the Yuletide dies in a tragic accident whose circumstances Jane immediately views with suspicion. If the accident was in fact murder, the killer is one of Jane’s fellow snow-bound guests. With clues scattered amidst cleverly-crafted charades, dark secrets coming to light during parlor games, and old friendships returning to haunt the Christmas parties, whom can Jane trust to help her discover the truth and stop the killer from striking again?
My first Christmas read of 2021, and a library loan that was the most reluctant of my choices that day. I’m wary of books that use real historical figures as the main characters of their novels – they rarely turn out well – and a mystery series involving Jane Austen solving murders felt almost blasphemous, as well as an attempt to cash in on Austen’s popularity.
It was actually pretty good! I know next to nothing about Austen’s life beyond the basics, so I can’t say her voice was accurate, but it’s definitely an accurate representation of many of her characters’ voices, which could be argued to be, in part, small pieces of herself as well as her observations of others. There were lines in this book that felt like re-constructions of dialogue straight from Austen’s novels – not quotes or rip-offs, but the author definitely nailed the style, probably from deconstructing dialog from the books.
What I found really intriguing were footnotes in the text – probably not more than 1 or 2 per chapter – from the editor, clarifying historic events, or offering small amounts of historical background, for places, characters and events used in the plot. I’ve never seen this meld of fiction and non-fiction before and I really appreciated the extra information, and that it was offered judiciously.
The mystery itself was average; the setup was good and the flow of clues and information worked well, it’s just that the murderer, in spite of being very well hidden beneath all the family secrets and political intrigues, was obvious to me from the start, as was at least one familial intrigue.
So, even though the mystery itself was a bit predictable, I ended up thoroughly enjoying the read. This isn’t the first book in the series – it looks like there are quite a few before this one – but I had no trouble at all following along. Two allusions were made about previous exploits, and these were footnoted with the titles they came from – the only two footnotes not about historical references.
I’m not sure if my library has any of the others, but I’m definitely interested in reading more of them.