From the desk of Katie Jackson:
Jane Austen—that lauded, shrewd observer and chronicler of humanity—was also a skillful sleuth. Or so readers are thoroughly convinced in the fourteenth book of acclaimed historical mystery author Stephanie Barron’s Being a Jane Austen Mystery series, Jane and the Year Without a Summer.
Off to the Less-Celebrated Watering Hole
It is 1816, and Jane Austen is facing ill health of unknown cause. In an attempt to treat her ailments, she travels with her sister Cassandra to drink allegedly restorative mineral waters, attracted to the remedy along with others of failing health, because “novelty will always draw those hopeful of cure.” (Loc 292) However, they do not seek their cure at Bath, the ancient and unrivaled pleasure destination of the upper classes. Instead, they aim for Cheltenham, which “is to Bath what a heedless country maid is to a dowager; lacking in refinement and dignity, and prone to a good deal of untempered noise.” (Loc 230)
At their rented lodgings, as well as about the town in Cheltenham, Jane and Cassandra mingle with intriguing new acquaintances and deepen their appreciation for old ones. Love is in the air, but so are countless mysteries. Speculation abounds as secrets are revealed and loyalties and motives questioned. When tragedy strikes—repeatedly—Jane’s considerable powers of rational observation come to the rescue. But will she succeed in saving herself from the irrational powers of her yearning, anguished heart?
Be not alarmed, dear readers, but I must confess that I am possibly one of the last Janeites not to have read any of the Being a Jane Austen mysteries before now. There, I said it, and now we can be rational again.
Although I entered this lengthy series near the end, I easily picked up the time and place and people, and it was lovely to be immersed with Jane there amongst them. Her keen observations of those around her felt like she was confiding in me as a trusted friend, while I simultaneously sensed how she gleaned inspiration for the characters created by her pen. I smiled when I recognized Mrs. Bennet’s nerves in Jane Austen’s sister-in-law Mary’s histrionics. A lady “who generally met the happiness of her friends with indignation.” (Loc 177)
“How like James’s wife to languish in misery in a cold parlour, like an heroine in a Gothic novel, in the hope her husband should discover her in a swoon, and exclaim all his remorse romantickly over her insensible head!” (Loc 186)
Plot Twists Aplenty
Since I knew this was a mystery, I was surprised when I was more than one-third of the way through the story before anything particularly mysterious occurred. Although the pace was slower than I expected or prefer, I cannot say it was unrealistic, and I did enjoy observing the secondary characters with Jane’s writer’s eye. There were plot twists aplenty, with a conclusion that I did not predict.
There is something almost soothing about reading Jane discussing the mundane elements of her life with her sister and witnessing the sometimes complicated interactions with their family members and acquaintances. Knowing how her life will end so prematurely, it’s comforting to know how well she was loved. The author captured Jane’s voice and temperament perfectly. Impressively pitch-perfect, in fact, and certainly related to the extensive historical and biographical research that is infused into the story.
I thought I would be sad reading this tale that takes place in the year before her untimely death, but Jane herself did not obsess over her deteriorating condition. Instead, I felt oddly hopeful, although there is a subtle sense of denial in her lack of desperation. She was ailing, but not yet completely debilitated. She convinced me—as well as her beloved sister Cassandra—that all was yet well, her health complaints a mere fleeting trifle to be addressed with leisure and the taking of the foul waters at Cheltenham.
“I know now that I must cherish every day, and use each as wisely as I am allowed.” (Loc 3030)
Historical mystery and Jane Austen fans alike will enjoy the artful suspense and poignant moments in Jane and the Year Without a Summer.
5 out of 5 Stars
- “Outstanding…Barron fans will hope Jane, who died in 1817, will be back for one more mystery.”— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
- “No one conjures Austen’s voice like Stephanie Barron, and Jane and the Year Without a Summer is utterly pitch-perfect.”— Deanna Raybourn, bestselling author of the Veronica Speedwell Mysteries
- “…a page-turning story, imbued with fascinating historical detail, a cast of beautifully realized characters, a pitch-perfect Jane Austen, and an intriguing mystery. Highly recommended.”— Syrie James, bestselling author of The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen
- “Jane and the Year Without a Summer is absolute perfection. Stephanie Barron expertly weaves fact and fiction, crafting a story that is authentically Austen in its elegance, charm, and wit. The characters and setting will enchant you, and the mystery will keep you guessing to the last page. This Regency-set gem is truly a diamond of the first water.”— Mimi Matthews, USA Today bestselling author of The Siren of Sussex
Francine Mathews was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written twenty-five books, including five novels in the Merry Folger series (Death in the Off-Season, Death in Rough Water, Death in a Mood Indigo, Death in a Cold Hard Light, and Death on Nantucket) as well as the nationally bestselling Being a Jane Austen mystery series, which she writes under the penname, Stephanie Barron. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado.
- Jane and the Year Without a Summer: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 14), by Stephanie Barron
- Soho Press (February 8, 2022)
- Hardcover, eBook, & audiobook (336) pages
- ISBN: 978-1641292474
- Genre: Austenesque, Historical Mystery
We received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Soho Press © 2022; text Katie Jackson © 2022, austenprose.com.
Hello Dear Readers,
Have you read any of the novels in the Being a Jane Austen Mystery series?
If you enjoy clever historical mysteries with witty dialogue, engaging plots, and endearing characters, Austenprose highly recommends them.
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Laurel Ann Nattress, editor