Review: Being the Fourth Jane Austen Mystery: Jane and the Genius of the Place, by Stephanie Barron

When reading Austen, it's often easy to forget everything that was happening in her world. The politics of the time go mostly unremarked in her books (with a few momentary glaring exceptions...I'm thinking this second of Persuasion and Mansfield Park); one hardly expects talk of a French invasion.

I think that's why Barron's series is so special - it's a little bit of Austen's real life, a giant sprinkling of her books, and a smattering of political intrigue. One minute you're saying "Hey - that line's from Captain Wentworth's letter in Persuasion," and in the next you're trying to figure out who killed the French lady.

Jane and the Genius of the Place occurs a few months after the passing of her father, while she spends some months with her brother Edward's family near Canterbury. While at the famous Canterbury Races, a woman is killed and, as honorary Justice, Edward and his family are dragged into the fray. What ensues is a twisted tale of spies, death and...wait for it...cross-dressing.

This book was perhaps less romantic than the Second in the series. And with no Lord Harold in sight for 99% of the novel, it was lacking in a certain amount of witty exchanges. But the murder, intrigue, and then more murder kind of made up for his absence. And there were all kinds of gems for Janeites to find - glimpses of Darcy, of Wentworth, Mrs. Elton, Mr. Collins, Mr. Rushworth and even Lady Catherine. Barron's edge is in mixing these characters of Jane's invention with the real historical figures featured in the novel. Because so much of Austen's correspondance was destroyed, we will never truly know what her interactions with these people were like, nor what persons were definite inspirations for her work. But Barron's novels make a rather fun game of guessing.


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