Was Jane Austen a plagiarist? Modern-day bibliophile and Austen fan Sophie Collingwood hopes not, but can she establish the truth about her favorite author while exploring her beloved uncle’s suspicious death and choosing between two attractive men, asks Lovett’s lightweight new literary mystery?
Who came up with the central plot of Pride and Prejudice? Elderly English cleric Rev. Richard Mansfield, suggests Lovett (The Bookman’s Tale, 2013) in this parallel-narrative tale that explores Austen’s friendship with Mansfield in the late 18th century alongside the contemporary life and loves of Sophie. Sophie became a bookaholic thanks to her uncle Bertram, who adored books and taught his niece to share his passion. When Bertram dies mysteriously, Sophie is heartbroken. Due to inherit his London apartment and book collection, she is further devastated to learn the books have been sold to cover her uncle's debts. Taking a job as an antiquarian bookseller, Sophie finds herself pursued by competing suitors: footloose American academic Eric Hall and smooth publisher Winston Godfrey, who first puts Sophie on the trail of the Rev. Mansfield’s obscure second volume of A Little Book of Allegorical Stories—titled Little Allegories and a Cautionary Tale—which throws up the question about Austen’s invention. Lovett’s love of books and libraries once again energizes his storytelling, but this new plot is more conventional than his first, with Sophie’s chapters verging on chick lit and Jane’s testing the patience of non–Austen-ophiles. Intrepid Sophie, who steals books and has casual sex, is only temporarily outfoxed by the novel’s cardboard villain and soon solves the men dilemma, too.
The freshness that marked Lovett’s debut is less evident in this second novel, a predictable tale of romantic suspense that becomes progressively weaker in its closing chapters.