#48 A Review of Jane and the Man of the Cloth by Stephanie Barron

For those of you who have never heard of the Jane Austen mystery series, let me enlighten you.  Stephanie Barron, author of the series, is at a friend’s house when a huge discovery is suddenly made.  A trunk filled with letters and journals belonging to THE Jane Austen is discovered that fills in the details that have been missing about her life, post 1804.  These journals and letters reveal that during her time Jane was a bit of a sleuth, finding mystery and intrigue at her every turn.  Now, we all know that these journals and letters are fake, but imagine if they weren’t?  Imagine being able to read the correspondences that Jane wrote during those missing years?  It’s a pretty clever if you ask me!

Our mystery begins with Jane and her family traveling to Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast to seek cooler temperatures in the harsh summer heat.  Suddenly, the carriage in which they are traveling overturns and Jane’s sister, Cassandra, is injured.  With nowhere else to turn, Jane and her family look for help at the closest estate, known as High Down Grange.  The estate is owned by Geoffrey Sidmouth and his cousin Seraphine LeFevre.  For all their kindness in helping Jane and her family in their hour of need, Jane finds something odd about Mr. Sidmouth and his home.  During her stay at the Grange Austen sees many things that make her question what truly goes on in that household. They remove to their own cottage a few days later and Jane thinks things are back to normal.  Boy is she wrong.  She wakes up one morning to find a man has been hung on make-shift gallows.  This begins to set Jane off on a path of sleuthing, where she tries to find out who this man was, and why he was murdered.  The more that Jane uncovers, the more she finds herself surrounded by smuggling, assassins, and even more murder!  Can Jane get to the bottom of the mystery and find out the true nature of Sidmouth before she becomes too entangled in this dangerous web? 

I was sadly disappointed at how long it took Jane and the Man of the Cloth to pick up pace and engage me as a reader.  I devoured the first book in the series and was truly saddened by this one.  I felt like there weren’t enough characters or events to drag me into the story the way Scargrave Manor did.  Scargrave Manor moved at such an excellent pace by inserting multiple murders, threatening notes, multiple wrong accusations, and secret love affairs.  Here, all of the “action” is thrown into the last 100 pages.  It took me forever to get through the monotonous beginning of the novel, and when I finally did, it really took off.  There is one scene where Jane leaves her house in the dead of night and follows smugglers in the dark; my heart was racing the entire time.  If this sense of adventure had permeated through the whole book, I would have been elated.

This series is an incredibly creative idea on Barron’s part; after reading one of the novels in the series it was clear to see that Barron really did her homework not only on Jane, but also about the events of the period.  Jane and the Man of the Cloth is filled with footnotes expanding upon allusions in the text that relate to Austen’s writing of Persuasion or The Watson’s. Not only does Barron make references to Austen’s published works, but to letters or journals that have survived over the years.  The wealth of information provided in the books as well as the style of the writing really does give the illusion that it’s Austen’s hand doing the writing and not Barron.  I think that this has to be the highest praise I can give Barron and the series.  It’s so realistic and characteristic of Austen it’s scary!

If you’re into mystery, and have yet to give the wonderful world of Jane Austen fan fiction a try, this might be the series to introduce you to this wonderful genre!

3 out of 5 Stars

This is my second completed review for the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge  

This is my twenty-first completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Jane and the Man of the Cloth by Stephanie Barron
Random House (1997)
Paperback 335 pages
ISBN: 9780553574890
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