In her fledgling foray into the growing field of Austenesque fan fiction, author Jennifer Petkus takes an entirely new direction from her first novel, Good Cop, Dead Cop, with My Particular Friend, mixing up Regency matchmaking and mystery, which some may argue are one and the same. My attempts to further sub-categorize it utterly fail. But, let’s try a recipe: Combine the crime-solving of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the location and dialogue of Jane Austen, the humor and romance of Frances Burney, mash-up thoroughly and you get something like “Matrimonial private investigators, Inc.”
The adventure is set in Bath, England during the Napoleonic Wars and showcases three totally un-alike heroines: The first is the mastermind, Miss Charlotte House, who is one of the most fascinating fictional personalities this reader has yet come across. She is stately tall; her elegance turns heads all over Bath; her presence commands awe and respect; her enigmatic mind is near-genius in its capabilities; nothing in Bath of any consequence escapes her notice. She is relentless and unconventional. Neither is she above thievery or deception in order to accomplish her mission. Mercurial and unpredictable, she can be fiercely loyal, generous with her wealth, and often kind to everyone. Or, she can be mercilessly uncompromising in the demands on her partners and clients. The second is Miss Jane Woodsen, the first-person narrator of the tale. She is young and naïve but shows the potential analytical skills that Miss House seeks. The third is Mrs. Margaret Fitzhugh, the mother-figure whose relationship to the leader is a closely-held secret.
Miss Woodsen is in desperate straits since her gentleman father committed suicide over losing his fortune and his property has been entailed away. Miss House rescues destitute Jane off the streets of Bath and offers her a situation. In exchange for shelter, raiment, and a living, all Miss House desires of Jane is for her to become a “particular friend” and protégé’. She is thus welcomed into Charlotte’s home as a respected “gentlewoman.”
What is Miss House’s “living?” In her own words: (Charlotte conversing with Jane) “I suppose you could say I’m an intermediary. Mothers come to me and ask my aid in the matter of their daughter’s matrimonial prospects.” “I see,” I said, puzzled. “And of this service….” “I am NOT in trade, my dear.”
Within this affair are five matrimonial episodes that defy solving until the parties seek Miss House for assistance. The episodes tax the ladies and their informants to the limits of their abilities. Each episode contains its own distinct mood from the sinister to the wildly funny to the deceitful to the romantic.
The prime cargo is the suspense generated within these romantic mysteries but the engine that drives that cargo along is the exquisitely entertaining dialogue between the three ladies, their friends, acquaintances, and clients. In true Austen style, the author just nails the quaint civility and manners that predominated that time period without any overt sexuality, profanity, or unnecessary violence.
A sample quote from the clever wit of the author had me laughing out loud in its ridiculousness: (Jane speaking to Charlotte) “I often wondered aloud how troublesome it would be to retain so much knowledge, but she always said when information no longer was useful she promptly forgot it. I found difficulty believing her statement and asked her to give me an example of knowledge she no longer found useful. She countered that she could not because she had forgotten any examples. I countered that she could not cite an example because knowledge never becomes useless. She merely looked at me, blinked twice and said ‘I’m sorry, what were we talking about?’”
Two significant threads woven through the entire affair bind the episodes together. A tantalizing romance slowly blossoms between Miss Woodsen and one Mr. Wallace, an erstwhile military field physician who assists Miss House in her tasks. And, what is the source of the tragic sorrow of Miss House that surfaces at times but remains a mystery for the entire affair? Why does this oh-so eligible lady, with such beauty, wealth, and brilliance remain single into her late twenties?
The conclusion of the affair is enticingly open-ended as the ladies plan a season in London. Will there be new romantic tangles to solve? Will Mr. Wallace follow them? Will Charlotte find love? These questions BEG for a sequel! Or, will author Jennifer Petkus take an entirely different direction? Perhaps the author’s fertile imagination will prove to be as unpredictable as Miss Charlotte House herself. Whatever the outcome, I sense we have uncovered an emerging literary talent here of considerable promise.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
My Particular Friend: A Charlotte House Affair (Volume 1), by Jennifer Petkus
Mallard Classics (2012)
Trade paperback (302) pages
Kindle: ASIN: B005UF4Z6U
Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline. His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”
© 2007 – 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose