Treason, murder and a whiff of international intrigue add spice to the Austen family holidays in the 11th book of Barron’s series.
What promises to be a dismal Christmas season for Jane Austen and her pinchpenny clergyman brother James brightens considerably with her invitation to The Vyne, an elegant old house with a long history. Its current owners, William and Eliza Chute, are the genial hosts of a large house party that’s a welcome escape from the home of James and his hypochondriac wife. Jane, her beloved sister, Cassandra, and their mother much prefer to make merry with the other guests, including Raphael West, son of the well-known Philadelphia painter. Raphael, who’s already encountered Jane and her party in a roadway accident, has no pretensions to the skills of his father. But he likes to sketch everything he sees, and his eye for detail is as keen as Jane’s powers of observation, all of which come into play when a young naval lieutenant who’s come to The Vyne on urgent government business dies of a broken neck nearby. Missing from his dispatch bag is a highly important document that could affect the future of Europe and America. A second death, a drawing of a naked woman on a cross, a secret passage and a small bottle are the disparate clues that Jane, with help from the dashing, enigmatic Raphael, uses to find the killer who has so tastelessly intruded upon the holiday season. The informed reader will find any number of allusions to the actual novels of Jane, who might be surprised to find how she’s prospered as a detective.
Barron (Jane and the Canterbury Tale, 2011, etc.) has clearly done her homework in the language and manners of Austen’s time. Even though she’s no match for her literary idol and her pacing is leisurely at best, her latest venture edges out competing authors of Regency whodunits.