Sunday, November 27, 2005

Book Review: Ah, I am such a sucker for Jane Austen mysteries...

A Few Book Reviews:

Pride and Prescience, or A Truth Universally Acknowledged by Carrie Bebris--6
First in the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery series

Although suffering from a cutesy title, this book was surprisingly good for a debut. The characterization was particularly strong in the opening chapters, with many endearing explorations of the Lizzie/Darcy relationship. Bebris also included a great running joke about Jane and Bingley’s talent for attracting inept servants (building on Mr. Bennett’s comment in P and P about how the overly-generous newlyweds would be easily swindled). That’s not to say that it didn’t have its issues. The mystery was weak, a problem which plagues many new (and even some experienced) authors. The plot involves the engagement and marriage of Caroline Bingley to an American gentleman. After the wedding, Caroline begins to act very strangely, and the Darcy’s must look for an explanation. There were some decent red herrings thrown in (though I had already narrowed the suspects down to the actual culprit halfway through), but the plot ended with an unfortunate appeal to the supernatural that feels out of place in Austen’s world of financial practicality. I am not the hardened skeptic that Darcy is in this novel, but I do feel that there are places where magic is less appropriate. Also, the fine characterization of the early chapters faded as the mystery heightened, dimming the book’s chief strength. Nevertheless, I look forward to future installments in this series, despite the fact that the newest is to be titled North By Northanger (which may have the great distinction of having both Alfred Hitchcock and Jane Austen simultaneously rolling in their graves).

Suspense and Sensibility, or First Impressions Revisited by Carrie Bebris--5.5
Second in the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery series

Although this book contains another hearty dose of excellent characterization, including the addition of the Dashwoods from Sense and Sense, this installment lacks direction. We don’t really get a mystery in the conventional sense (there is no murder which precipitates the conflict). Instead, we are treated to some more supernatural intrigue which is resolved rather abruptly. It seems that Kitty’s finance, Harry Dashwood, falls prey to some sinister spell. These sinister goings on are only hinted at for the first section of the novel, but then rush forward to the conclusion too swiftly for my “I like to savor the clues” tastes. Nevertheless, the development of Kitty as a sympathetic character is welcome, as I have always feared that she would never truly outgrow the frivolity instilled in her by Lydia. That the Darcys should meet the Dashwoods seems somewhat reasonable, but this device will wear thin if the Darcys wander into all of Austen’s famed families. I am also curious to see what Bebris will do when she has run out of Austen novels to serve as bases for her books, as there is a sadly limited supply. Not to mention what other crazy titles we have in store.

Jane and the Unpleasantness of Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron--7
First in the Jane Austen mystery series

A few of my dear readers may remember that I reviewed the second installment of this series several years ago. Most of you probably don’t. Regardless, spurred on by the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mysteries, I decided to revisit this series and finally start from the beginning. I wasn’t disappointed. Barron has written a tight opener, with an interesting cast and a compelling mystery. The books are presented in the guise of edited editions of “long-lost Austen journals,” complete with those annoying footnotes that academics, myself included, adore. But the annotations soon take a backseat to the story. Jane Austen is visiting a friend, the Countess Scargrave when the Earl of Scargrave dies in suspicious circumstances. The Countess is accused of the crime, and it is up to Jane to clear her name. The book swiftly introduces a number of compelling suspects, though the actual culprit will probably be obvious to seasoned mystery readers. Plus there are hints of a juicy romantic relationship for Jane, which will undoubtedly be explored in later installments. I have already borrowed the third entry in the series from the library, which I heartily look forward to.

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