Review: Being the Third Jane Austen Mystery: Jane and the Wandering Eye, by Stephanie Barron

*Wipes sweat from brow* Phew, I thought I was going to screw up my posting schedule already, and I hadn't even posted the first book! I tried to write last night...but I fell asleep looking at earrings on Etsy. I tried to write today at work, but I didn't want it to be angry (and work often makes me angry). So here I am, almost Wednesday, finally getting around to this Tuesday review...and I finished the book on Saturday! Tsk tsk to me. Anyway...

This was the first of the series that I felt was less-solidly built. I think it had a lot to do with its locale. While the first mystery takes place at a manor and the second in a small sea-side community (both mean a small cast of characters and easy-to-follow plots), Jane and the Wandering Eye takes place in Bath (this means a large cast of characters, constantly shifting in and out of town). Well-versed Janeites will know, of course, that Austen hated living in Bath, a trait that she gave her final heroine, Anne Elliot. She missed the country, and it shows in Barron's version of her.

But the cast of this novel is too large. In its scope, it's more like "Law & Order" and less like "Columbo"...not that I don't love "Law & Order," but you know how sometimes they introduce characters at minute 10 and minute 25 (right around introducing the person who actually did it) and by the time you get to their testimony in minute 51, you can't remember who the hell they are? That's how this plot felt. Though the story did deal quite a bit with actors and the theatre, which is something that always makes me perk up a bit (especially on "Law & Order"!) Lord Harold, who appears in the previous two books, is present yet again, but as it is his direction that leads to Austen's involvement in the plot-thickening, as it were, the whole thing seems a little convoluted.

As for the wandering eye of the title, I was kind of hoping it would be about those paintings where the eyes follow you around the room? You know, like the Mona Lisa or those paintings in the Haunted Mansion. But actually it's about eye portraits of the eighteenth century - instead of miniatures of a lover's face or torso (think Wickham's/Darcy's miniatures in Pride & Prejudice), artists would do portraits of just someone's eye in the same size, and then the painting would be set in a locket or a watch or a brooch....seriously, how creepy can we get here?

That's like the eighteenth-century version of creepy Skype-ing. Very digital get down. "Oh, Lord so-and-so I'm so very erotically to always have this painting of your eye close to my heart." Gross. No wonder none Austen's books have crap like that - it's disturbing! I mean, Captain Benwick's miniature likeness being drawn up for Fanny Harville is one thing. That's like keeping a photo of a loved one in your wallet (so I guess his then having the painting re-set and engraved for Louisa Musgrove...that'd be like stealing from someone's wallet...?), but just an eye? Creepy. Barron handles the creepiness tolerably and assigns the owners of such tokens with a decent amount of both validity and eccentricity.

But while she succeeds there, she seems to fail in Lord Harold. Maybe it's the romantic in me, but the stop-and-start of his emotions is too much. Isn't Bath busy enough without the added ruckus? I'm hoping the next novel (Jane and the Genius of the Place is a little less crowded (based on the fact that we're moving chronologically, and the fact that I know Austen lived in Bath until 1805, and on the fact that Wandering Eye takes place in December 1804, I have reason to hope that we may be granted a reprieve from that awful city).


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