Being the thirteenth of Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen mysteries. Jane, as the newly revealed author of Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park, is summoned to Carlton House. Not, as you might expect, to meet its tenant, the Prince Regent, who is occupied by sitting for his Waterloo portrait, but to view the prince’s magnificent library and to avail herself of its amenities as a room in which to write her next book. Jane does not approve of the regent and after she fulfills her duty to this royal command is going to do no such thing, until a Hero (Jane and Barron make that a proper noun in the stile [sic] of the day and I follow suit) of the battle of Waterloo falls at her feet, in death throes from poisoning by yew needles. When Providence provides, what can Jane do but investigate?
From the body in the library [squee!] to the cameo appearance by the Duke of Wellington and the reappearance of that dashing painter slash spy, Raphael West (whom we first met in Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas) Jane ignores, avoids and denies the constrictions and shibboleths accruing to her sex in this time and place to seek out the villain and bring him to justice. There are false starts and red herrings, her brother Henry’s annoyance at his sister’s predilection for these unladylike exploits and her own attraction to West to navigate, but never doubt that Jane will get there in the end.
In her literary persona Jane is currently editing Emma, or she is when her new publisher finally gets the proofs to her.
“Suprizes are foolish things,” I intoned in Mr. Knightley’s voice. “The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.” I have a decided talent for an epigram; I hope it delights my readers as much as myself.
It does, Jane, it does, and Barron knows this full well and shamelessly and delightfully exploits Jane’s own real world words to enhance Barron’s narrative. There are echoes, too, from Jane’s novels in this one that are so poignant as to be a little painful.
I should have spoken. I should have said, loudly or softly, You know that you may command me in anything, Raphael West.
Jane Bennet, anyone, who nearly lost Bingley because Darcy thought her indifferent? And see Jane’s thoughts on Anne Elliott, the heroine of her next novel, Persuasion.
I shall spend my hours in consideration of a young woman long since On the Shelf, the daughter of a foolish by privileged family, whose good sense in chusing a man of action and prowess is rewarded as such wisdom usually is: by being dissuaded from risk, and channeled with the best possible motives into an oppressive and stultifying spinsterhood.
Ouch. Jane’s voice is so clear and so real and often so acerbic in these novels that you feel as if you are residing behind and just to the left of her occipital lobe throughout. I could move in for good.
And great news for Barron and Austen fans, Stephanie Barron is signing Jane and the Waterloo Map at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale at 7pm tomorrow! Click here to order your signed copy.