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

Jane and the Man of the Cloth, by Stephanie Barron (1997)Manners meet mayhem again in the second Being a Jane Austen Mystery, Jane and the Man of the Cloth. It is 1804 and Jane and her family are traveling by post chaise to Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast to escape the oppressive summer heat in Bath when their carriage is overturned and Jane’s sister Cassandra injured. Seeking help at a local estate, Jane and her family take refuge at High Down Grange and are thrown into the care of its mysterious owner Geoffrey Sidmouth and his beautiful young cousin Seraphine LeFevre. The manor house and its owner have enough of an oddness about them that our observant Jane thinks something amiss.

With Cassandra on the mend they arrive at their rented cottage at Lyme and are shortly joined by Jane’s brother Henry and wife Eliza. After a walk on the Cobb Jane witnesses a heated exchange between Mr. Sidmouth and a local worker. The next day the man is found dead, bound hand and foot, swinging from a makeshift gibbet at the end of the Cobb. Intrigued, Jane seeks out the best source of information that a young lady of her gentility can garner: the mercantile shop and the weekly Assembly Dance. There the local gossip from Mrs. Barnewall, the Crawfords, Lucy Armstrong and the dashing naval officer Captain Percival Fielding inform Jane that Mr. Sidmouth is much more than the enigmatic romantic figure that she has suspected. Deep into the Napoleonic Wars, the Dorset coast is a hotbed of smuggling, spies and espionage whose ringleader, the notorious “Reverend,” or the “Man of the Cloth,” is known to favor fine silks in his nighttime free trade. Jane is conflicted over her feelings for Mr. Sidmouth and the fact that Captain Fielding claims he is the culprit. When Fielding is found murdered and Sidmouth arrested, Jane is asked by the local authorities to aid in the investigation setting her on the path of intrigue and danger.

This is my second novel in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery series. It was another delight. Barron in known for interlacing known facts from Jane Austen’s life into her plots. This period of history for Jane is a bit of a mystery. There are very few letters remaining and only family lore alluding to her unfortunate love affair with a clergyman that she met on a seaside holiday who later died. This “nameless and dateless” romance leaves lots of room for speculation and opens up the possibilities of a great mystery plot which Barron uses to her advantage. Our Jane is much more adventurous and daring in this narrative, sneaking out at night and investigating caves. We do get our share of Assembly Balls, frocks and finery, but the action was occasionally outside what gentile ladies are usually allowed to do, and at times I thought is a bit unbelievable – almost Jane Austen/Nancy Drew.

The historical detail always brought me back into focus and I especially enjoyed the footnotes, though I understand they annoy some readers. I found myself laughing out loud, when I fear I should not, when Jane is introduced to High Down Grange with its dark, unkempt and unwomanly appearance and its present broody owner Mr. Sidmouth with his snarling dogs Fang and Beelzebub. Evoking memories of Bronte heroes, either my brain has been addled by too much historical romance reading, or Stephanie Barron has a wicked sense of humor!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane and the Man of the Cloth: Being the Second Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books (1997)
Mass market paperback (335) pages
ISBN: 978-0553574890

This is my second selection in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge 2011. You can still join the reading challenge in progress until July 1, 2011. Participants, please leave comments and or place links to your reviews on the official reading challenge page by following this link.

Grand Giveaway

Author Stephanie Barron has generously offered a signed hardcover copy of Jane and the Man of the Cloth to one lucky winner. Leave a comment stating what intrigues you about this novel, or if you have read it, who your favorite character is by midnight PT, Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Winner to be announced on Thursday, February 17, 2011. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

28 thoughts on “Jane and the Man of the Cloth: Being the Second Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron – A Review

  1. I haven’t read any of Stephanie Baron’s novels yet but they sound intriguing! Can you pick up any of them to read or are they best enjoyed in order?

    I’ve wanted to go to Lyme Regis ever since I read Persuasion. Oh, to walk on the Cobb!

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  2. I’ve been a bit hesitant about reading any of the Jane Austen ‘spin-offs’, but this mystery sounds very interesting. I would love to try a Jane Austen mystery. Thanks for the giveaway.

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  3. I love how Barron pits Captain Fielding and Mr. Sidmouth against each other vying for Jane’s affections in the same way as Darcy and Wickham do for Elizabeth in P&P. As for characters exclusive to this novel, Sidmouth is my favorite. Dashing, brooding, romantic…sigh. :)

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  4. I love this whole series.
    @Jenny- you can read them out of order but it is better to start from the begining since some of the characters reappear later.

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  5. Looks like an exciting series. I haven’t read either of them yet, but I love a good mystery with an exciting plot. You had me at overturned carriage!

    Samantha

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  6. My favorite character from the book is Mrs. Bennett. Some of her lines made me laugh out loud. I also wanted to mention how much I love the cover artwork of all the books in this series. The covers were initially what drew me to pick up the first few books.

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  7. I just started re-reading this novel for the challenge earlier this week, and hope to have my own review up within the next few days. I’m really enjoying re-visiting Jane’s second adventure!

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  8. Mr. Sidmouth sounds intriguing, to be sure! I picked up the first Jane mystery a while back, and would love to read the 2nd.

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  9. I enjoyed this book. I have had this series recommended to me for sometime and your challenge has me reading the books. I went to Barnes and Noble and used my Educators Discount to get all of the books so I’d be ready for the challenge. When is the date for the review of # 3 so I can have read that book before then?

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  10. Hey, Ladies, I’ve been Abroad for the past five days (actually, in New Orleans, while my husband ran a half-marathon), but plan to have a post about the research, writing, and inspiration for MAN OF THE CLOTH posted on my blog tomorrow. Hope you have a chance to stop by!

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