Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas
Being a Jane Austen Mystery #12
by Stephanie Barron
Soho crime/Random House
On Sale: October 28, 2014
Hardcover/E-Book Pages: 336
Audio CD available Narrated by Kate Reading Blackstone Audio, Inc.; Unabridged edition (10/28/14)
E-Galley provided by Publisher for review. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinion presented herein is my own except as noted.
Jane Austen turns sleuth in this delightful murder mystery set over the twelve days of a Regency-Era Christmas party.
Christmas Eve, 1814: Jane Austen has been invited to spend the holiday with family and friends at The Vyne, the gorgeous ancestral home of the wealthy and politically prominent Chute family. As the year fades and friends begin to gather beneath the mistletoe for the twelve days of Christmas festivities, Jane and her circle are in a celebratory mood: Mansfield Park is selling nicely; Napoleon has been banished to Elba; British forces have seized Washington, DC; and on Christmas Eve, John Quincy Adams signs the Treaty of Ghent, which will end a war nobody in England really wanted.
Jane, however, discovers holiday cheer is fleeting. One of the Yuletide revelers dies in a tragic accident, which Jane immediately views with suspicion. If the accident was in fact murder, the killer is one of Jane’s fellow snow-bound guests. With clues scattered amidst cleverly crafted charades, dark secrets coming to light during parlor games, and old friendships returning to haunt the Christmas parties, whom can Jane trust to help her discover the truth and stop the killer from striking again? http://www.randomhouse.com/book/238069/jane-and-the-twelve-days-of-christmas-being-a-jane-austen-mystery-by-stephanie-barron
There are a lot of these books so apparently they comprise a well-loved series, but it is the first I have read. It does refer to other stories in the series but stands on its own. This story, centered on the traditional twelve day celebration of Christmas is extremely detailed, to the point of being pedantic. Rooms and meals. in particular seem described in far too much depth. Often I like this, but not all the time and not in every particular. And like Jane Austen’s novels the characters are described and exposed exactingly. The language and words, and often the spelling seem very period correct as well. While this is useful in that it enhances the feeling that this is Jane’s journal, ,it feels like a gimmick.
For me that is indeed the beauty of Austen, her characters. And, they appear plentifully within these pages. You will see characters and phrasing pulled from many of Austen’s novels: Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice. This was cool; and I liked that I recognized it.
The other thing in this book is that it is first person,from Jane’s Point of View, and at some point she becomes a detective. This is probably the most interesting wrinkle in the book – although this is a fictional Jane, it is her diary or journal, written by her. So in a sense, it is another book by Jane Austen.
But, the novel was stultifying in its pace, and constipated in its plot. the major incident occurs around halfway through and there is a lot of ponderous non-activity in the meantime. It seems clear who the perp is or are. But, perhaps life moved at this glacial pace; especially when spinsters of forty years have to run up to their rooms and write every interaction and hypothesis down.
I had a hard time getting through the book, and if I had not listed it on my schedule, I might not have. But that is me, I like some good side stories and not just the mystery. It was interesting that the other detective on the case is Raphael West, the Son of the famous Anglo-American painter Benjamin West, (Death of Nelson, Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky). West did have two children, but I cannot discover if one was named Raphael and served as an amanuensis (word used in the book) for his father. He sort of becomes a romantic interest. That’s as fluffy as what I know of Austen’s real romantic life.
So, if you like Austen and want to read a first-person account of a crime and detective work by a fictionalized Austen, this would probably be great for you. I felt it was slow and stodgy. But, that’s the beauty of reading – what I might not like you may adore.