9.27.2011

Review: Being the Second Jane Austen Mystery: Jane and the Man of the Cloth, by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Man of
the Cloth

by Stephanie Barron
(1997)
We should call this series "Lauren and the Inability to Post on a Sunday" Series.

I thought about it several times this Sunday, but between being pissed at my laundromat, not getting adequate sleep, and pondering the wonders of going to the gym at Midnight, it simply didn't happen. This post I mean. I did go to the gym at Midnight. And it was wondrous. Moving on.

Despite its title, Jane and the Man of the Cloth is not about a clergyman. It is, rather, about a vengeful smuggler who is known to his Lyme compatriots as "The Reverend." (I just thought of something...he's a man... who smuggles silk. He's a man...of the cloth. Hee hee. OMG I'm tired. No more midnight gym!) I think that the combination of Jane Austen + Pirates could be brilliant. So when I discovered that this second Jane Austen mystery was about smugglers (a close relation to pirates), I jumped ever so slightly for joy. You'll recall that these are by no means actually "found" manuscripts of Austen's as the foreword to the first book will have you think, but fictional ruminations on Barron's part.

Barron has done her homework, and for that I must applaud her. For one thing, she's centered this book around a letter that we have from Jane to Cassandra in September of 1804 (I've found that having my copy of Jane Austen's Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye, handy while reading Barron's work has been very helpful) and on some non-fiction accounts of smuggling in Lyme. And she has pieced these things together with an expert hand. I have to say, these elicit accounts of Jane's life (what might have been, if you will) are almost as exciting as discovering the real thing. Jane, as many of you will be aware, died a spinster, so to have even a hint of a possibility of some episodes of her life being more adventurous and romantic than she ever let on, that's fascinating and exciting.

True as ever to Austen's own voice as well as to her own handiwork, Barron weaves here a tale of murderous vengeance, shocking escapades, and magnificent escapes. It is a narrative fabric to be admired (hee hee cloth). As I pointed out to my gym buddy: no, there's no "sexy-time" (which I'm sure would be a disappointment to some) but the out of character heart-thumping and clandestine passion that this version of Jane Austen does express is, I think, sexy enough for the modern reader.

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