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 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 is 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 a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 2), by Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books (1997)
Mass market paperback (335) pages
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.
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!
- Visit Stephanie Barron’s website
- Read Stephanie’s insights on creating Jane and the Man of the Cloth
- Read my review of Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor
© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose