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JANE AND THE MAN OF THE CLOTH by Stephanie Barron

JANE AND THE MAN OF THE CLOTH

By Stephanie Barron

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-553-10203-6
Publisher: Bantam

 Barron's second venture into the period and persona of Jane Austen (Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, p. 261) finds Jane, her sister Cassandra, and their parents on the road from Bath to a rented summer cottage in Lyme, on the seacoast. A heavy rainstorm overturns their carriage and injures Cassandra, but Jane finds help at the nearest dwelling--High Down Grange--and meets Geoffrey Sidmouth, its charismatic owner, along with his beautiful French cousin Seraphine. Once settled in Lyme, with Cassandra sent to London to speed her recovery, Jane is left to shop at the local boutique, attend the weekly Assembly dances, and wonder at a series of strange events along the coast that point to Sidmouth as the unidentified master (called ``Reverend'' by the townspeople) of a ring smuggling luxury goods from a Napoleonic France presently at war with England. One of that ring may have been Bill Tibbit, a local ne'er-do-well found hanged on the town quay, a white lily placed nearby. Displaying much interest in all this, and in Jane, is retired Captain Percival Fielding, who's mysteriously at bitter odds with Sidmouth. When Fielding is found shot to death--with another white lily and traces of Sidmouth's horse Satan near the body, and with reluctant testimony from his old friend Cholmondeley Crawford--Sidmouth appears doomed. But it's Jane and a few others to the rescue--a hero saved, no doubt, for future appearances. Prettily narrated, in true Austen style, but marred by a confusing, overlong, overpopulated plot, and by a Jane who too often appears Waspish or smug. A boon for Austen lovers, but outclassed by the author's debut.