Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron: Being a Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron – A Review

One thinks of Jane Austen as a retiring spinster who writes secretly, prefers her privacy and enjoys quiet walks in the Hampshire countryside. Instead, she has applied her intuitive skills of astute observation and deductive reasoning to solve crime in Stephanie Barron’s Austen inspired mystery series. It is an ingenious paradox that would make even Gilbert and Sullivan green with envy. The perfect pairing of the unlikely with the obvious that happens occasionally in great fiction by authors clever enough to pick up on the connection and run with it.

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron marks Stephanie Barron’s tenth novel in the best-selling Jane Austen Mystery series. For fourteen years, and to much acclaim, she has channeled our Jane beyond her quiet family circle into sleuthing adventures with lords, ladies and murderers. Cleverly crafted, this historical detective series incorporates actual events from Jane Austen’s life with historical facts from her time all woven together into mysteries that of course, only our brilliant Jane can solve.

It is the spring of 1813. Jane is home at Chawton Cottage “pondering the thorny question of Henry Crawford” in her new novel Mansfield Park and glowing in the recent favorable reception of Pride and Prejudice. Bad news calls her to London where her brother Henry’s wife Eliza, the Comtesse de Feuillde, is gravely ill. With her passing, Jane and Henry decide to seek the solace and restorative powers of the seaside selecting Brighton, “the most breathtaking and outrageous resort of the present age” for a holiday excursion.

At a coaching Inn along the way they rescue Catherine Twining, a young society Miss found bound and gagged in the coach of George Gordon, the 6th Baron of Byron, aka Lord Byron, the notorious mad, bad and dangerous to know poet. Miffed by their thwart of her abduction, Byron regretfully surrenders his prize to Jane and Henry who return her to her father General Twining in Brighton. He is furious and quick to fault his fifteen year-old daughter. Jane and Henry are appalled at his temper and concerned for her welfare.

Settled into a suite of rooms at the luxurious Castle Inn, Jane and Henry enjoy walks on the Promenade, fine dining on lobster patties and champagne at Donaldson’s and a trip to the local circulating library where Jane is curious to see how often the “Fashionables of Brighton” solicit the privilege of reading Pride and Prejudice! Even though Jane loathes the dissipated Prince Regent, she and Henry attend a party at his opulent home the Marine Pavilion. In the crush of the soirée, Jane again rescues Miss Twining from another seducer.

Later at an Assembly dance attended by much of Brighton’s bon ton, Lord Byron reappears stalked by his spurned amour, “the mad as Bedlam” Lady Caroline Lamb. Even though the room is filled with beautiful ladies he only has eyes for Miss Twining and aggressively pursues her. The next morning, Jane and Henry are shocked to learn that the lifeless body of a young lady found in Byron’s bed was their naïve new friend Miss Catherine Twining! The facts against Byron are very incriminating. Curiously, the intemperate poet is nowhere to be found and all of Brighton ready to condemn him.

Henry grasped my arm and turned me firmly back along the way we had come. “Jane,” he said bracingly, “we require a revival of your formidable spirit – one I have not seen in nearly two years. You must take up the rȏle of Divine Fury. You must penetrate this killer’s motives, and expose him to the world.”’ page 119

And so the game is afoot and the investigation begins…

It is great to have Jane Austen, Detective back on the case and in peak form. Fans of the series will be captivated by her skill at unraveling the crime, and the unindoctrinated totally charmed. The mystery was detailed and quite intriguing, swimming in red herrings and gossipy supposition. Pairing the nefarious Lord Byron with our impertinent parson’s daughter was just so delightfully “sick and wicked.” Their scenes together were the most memorable and I was pleased to see our outspoken Jane give as good as she got, and then some. Readers who enjoy a good parody and want to take this couple one step further should investigate their vampire version in Jane Bites Back.

Barron continues to prove that she is an Incomparable, the most accomplished writer in the genre today rivaling Georgette Heyer in Regency history and Austen in her own backyard. Happily readers will not have to wait another four years for the next novel in the series. Bantam is publishing Jane and the Canterbury Tale next year with a firm commitment of more to follow. Huzzah!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron: Being a Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books (2010)
Trade paperback (352) pages
ISBN: 978-0553386707

© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for September 2010

Autumn is here — and September is my favorite month of the year in book publishing.  There is always so much to choose from and this year does not disappoint.  The Jane Austen book sleuth is happy to inform Janeites of the many, many Austen inspired books heading our way this month, so keep your eyes open for these new titles.  Vampires seem to be dominating the field, with mysteries and Mr. Darcy stories not far behind.  Enjoy!

Fiction (prequels, sequels, retellings, variations, or Regency inspired)

Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron: Being A Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron

It’s been four long years since Jane and the Baroque of Frailty, the last Jane Austen mystery from Stephanie Barron first graced my bookshelf.  That is eternity for this Janeite who is as passionate (well almost) about mysteries as her Jane Austen.  The combination of these two mighty forces of fiction is about as good as it gets for me in pleasure reading.  This is the tenth book in Barron’s critically acclaimed series of Jane Austen as a genteel Regency-era sleuth, gumshoeing it with Lords, Ladies and murderers.  The story set in 1813 throws Jane into a murder investigation in Brighton (oh, won’t Kitty & Lydia Bennet be thrilled) involving that infamous mad, bad and dangerous to know poet of the Regency-era, Lord Byron. *swoon* (publisher’s description)  The restorative power of the ocean brings Jane Austen and her beloved brother Henry, to Brighton after Henry’s wife is lost to a long illness.  But the crowded, glittering resort is far from peaceful, especially when the lifeless body of a beautiful young society miss is discovered in the bedchamber of none other than George Gordon—otherwise known as Lord Byron.  As a poet and a seducer of women, Byron has carved out a shocking reputation for himself—but no one would ever accuse him of being capable of murder.  Now it falls to Jane to pursue this puzzling investigation and discover just how “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” Byron truly is.  And she must do so without falling victim to the charming versifier’s legendary charisma, lest she, too, become a cautionary example for the ages.  Bantam, trade paperback, ISBN: 978-0553386707

The Phantom of Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Murder Mystery, by Regina Jeffers

Another Austen inspired murder mystery to enchant us arrives from author Regina Jeffers.  She has previously written retellings and continuations of heroes: enigmatic Mr. Darcy and stalwart Captain Wentworth.  Now she takes an entirely new direction with a murder mystery and continues Pride and Prejudice with a twist. (publishers description) Happily married for over a year and more in love than ever, Darcy and Elizabeth can’t imagine anything interrupting their bliss-filled days.  Then an intense snowstorm strands a group of travelers at Pemberley, and terrifying accidents and mysterious deaths begin to plague the manor.  Everyone seems convinced that it is the work of a phan-tom–a Shadow Man who is haunting the Darcy family’s grand estate.  Darcy and Elizabeth believe the truth is much more menacing and that someone is trying to murder them.  But Pemberley is filled with family guests as well as the unexpected travelers — any one of whom could be the culprit — so unraveling the mystery of the murderer’s identity forces the newlyweds to trust each other’s strengths and work together.  Written in the style of the era and including Austen’s romantic playfulness and sardonic humor, this suspense-packed sequel to Pride and Prejudice recasts Darcy and Elizabeth as a husband-and-wife detective team who must solve the mystery at Pemberley and catch the murderer–before it’s too late. Ulysses Press, trade paperback, ISBN: 978-1569758458

Darcy’s Voyage: A tale of uncharted love on the open seas, by Kara Louise

This Pride and Prejudice variation places Mr. Darcy on board a ship (well, it did wonders for Captain Wentworth’s career) and traveling to America with socially inferior Elizabeth Bennet relegated to steerage.  The same misconceptions, misunderstandings and social machinations abound for the spirited Miss Bennet and the haughty Mr. Darcy, except they need to take their daily dose of Dramamine to get through it.  (publisher’s description)  In this enchanting and highly original retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet sets out for the new world aboard the grand ship Pemberley’s Promise.  She’s prepared for an uneventful voyage until a chance encounter with the handsome, taciturn Mr. Darcy turns her world upside down.  When Elizabeth falls ill, Darcy throws convention overboard in a plan that will bind them to each other more deeply than he ever could have imagined.  But the perils of their ocean voyage pale in comparison to the harsh reality of society’s rules that threaten their chance at happiness.  When they return to the lavish halls of England, will their love survive?  Sourcebooks Landmark, trade paperback, ISBN: 978-1402241024

Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister, by C. Allyn Pierson

Originally self-published in 2008 as And This Our Life: Chronicles of the Darcy Family: Book 1, this Pride and Prejudice continuation is ‘coming out’ again after a make-over and a new frock graces the elegant lady on the cover.  One assumes the beautiful debutant is Georgiana Darcy since she is Mr. Darcy’s little sister and the books heroine.  I really enjoyed this novel in its first inception.  Pierson has an excellent grasp of literature, Regency history and social customs and a reverence for Austen’s characters that just needed a good editor and some gilding to make it shine. (publisher’s description) Georgiana Darcy grows up and goes in pursuit of happiness and true love, much to her big brother’s consternation.  A whole new side of Mr. Darcy…He’s the best big brother, generous to a fault.  Protective, never teases. But over his dead body is any rogue or fortune hunter going to get near his little sister! (Unfortunately, any gentleman who wants to court Georgiana is going to have the same problem…)  So how’s a girl ever going to meet the gentleman of her dreams?  Sourcebooks Landmark, trade paperback, ISBN: 978-1402240386

I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend, by Cora Harrison

I am pleased to see another young adult novel inspired by Jane Austen’s life being released.  It is a great way to introduce a younger reader to Austen and her times with a historical bio-fic.  This is Irish author Cora Harrison’s first Austenesque novel, but she has written a plethora of children’s mysteries, which seems very apt for what we know of Jane Austen’s life.  (publisher’s description)  When shy Jenny Cooper goes to stay with her cousin Jane Austen, she knows nothing of the world of beautiful dresses, dances, secrets, gossip, and romance that Jane inhabits.  At fifteen, Jane is already a sharp observer of the customs of courtship.  So when Jenny falls utterly in love with Captain Thomas Williams, who better than Jane to help her win the heart of this dashing man?  But is that even possible?  After all, Jenny’s been harboring a most desperate secret.  Should it become known, it would bring scandal not only to her, but also to the wonderful Austen family.  What’s a poor orphan girl to do?  In this delicious dance between truth and fiction, Cora Harrison has crafted Jenny’s secret diary by reading everything Jane Austen wrote as a child and an adult, and by researching biographies, critical studies, and family letters.  Jenny’s diary makes the past spring vividly to life and provides insight into the entire Austen family—especially the beloved Jane. Delacorte Books for Young Readers, Hardcover, ISBN: 978-0385739405

Bespelling Jane Austen: Almost Persuaded\Northanger Castle\Blood and Prejudice\Little to Hex Her, by Mary Balogh, Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard & Janet Mullany

More vampire infused Austen retellings from a quartet of popular romance writers who each take one of Austen’s classic novels and reimagine it from a paranormal perspective.  Too bad they didn’t make it six stories, to include all of Austen’s major novels.  We will just have to close our eyes and think of Willoughby and Crawford as vampires instead.  Actually, that is not too far of a stretch.  Next up we are likely to see a Jane Austen’s gentleman’s vampire club! ;-) (publisher’s description)

Almost Persuaded:  In this Regency tale of Robert and Jane, New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh brings together former lovers who have seen beyond the veil of forgetfulness to their past mistakes, and are determined to be together in this life, and forever.

Northanger Castle:  Carloine’s obsession with Gothic novels winds up being good training for a lifetime of destroying the undead with her newfound beau, in this Regency by Colleen Gleason

Blood and Prejudice:  Set in the business world of contemporary New York City, Liz Bennet joins Mr. Darcy in his hunt for a vampire cure in New York Times bestselling suthor Susan Krinard’s version of the classic story.

Little To Hex Her:  Present-day Washington, D.C., is full of curious creatures in  Janet Mullany’s story, wherein Emma is a witch with with a wizard boyfriend and a paranormal dating service to run. HQN Books; Original edition, trade paperback, ISBN: 978-0373775019

Jane and the Damned, by Janet Mullany

Author Janet Mullany is really on an Austen paranormal role as two novels that she is involved with are released on the same day!  She is one of four author’s contributing a novella to Bespelling Jane Austen, and she wrote Jane and the Damned all on her lonesome.  Busy lady.  I always enjoy Janet’s wicked wit and bounding energy, so I am all anticipation of both of her paranormal offerings.  Just the tag line alone will confirm her sense of humor.  (publisher’s description)  Jane Austen – Novelist . . . gentlewoman . . . Damned, Fanged, and Dangerous to know.  Aspiring writer Jane Austen knows that respectable young ladies like herself are supposed to shun the Damned—the beautiful, fashionable, exquisitely seductive vampires who are all the rage in Georgian England in 1797.  So when an innocent (she believes) flirtation results in her being turned—by an absolute cad of a bloodsucker—she acquiesces to her family’s wishes and departs for Bath to take the waters, the only known cure.  But what she encounters there is completely unexpected: perilous jealousies and further betrayals, a new friendship and a possible love.  Yet all that must be put aside when the warring French invade unsuspecting Bath—and the streets run red with good English blood. Suddenly only the staunchly British Damned can defend the nation they love . . . with Jane Austen leading the charge at the battle’s forefront.  Avon, trade paperback, ISBN: 978-0061958304

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, by Victoria Connelly

The first novel in Connelly’s trilogy of Austen inspired contempories releases in the UK on September 16th.  Us Yanks will have to wait until Spring 2011 before it storms our shores.  If you are tempted like me, and can’t wait, you can buy it on Amazon.uk!  (pleeeze don’t tell my employer B&N that I said that)  The stories look light, bright and sparkly.  (publisher’s description)  Katherine Roberts is fed up with men.  As a lecturer specialising in the works of Jane Austen, she knows that the ideal man only exists within the pages of Pride & Prejudice and that in real life there is no such thing.  Determined to go it alone, she finds all the comfort she needs reading her guilty pleasure – regency romances from the pen of Lorna Warwick – with whom she has now struck up an intimate correspondence.  Austen fanatic, Robyn Love, is blessed with a name full of romance, but her love life is far from perfect. Stuck in a rut with a bonehead boyfriend, Jace, and a job she can do with her eyes shut – her life has hit a dead end. Robyn would love to escape from it all but wouldn’t know where to start.  They both decide to attend the annual Jane Austen Conference at sumptuous Purley Hall, overseen by the actress and national treasure, Dame Pamela Harcourt.  Robyn is hoping to escape from Jace for the weekend and indulge in her passion for all things Austen.  Katherine is hoping that Lorna Warwick will be in attendance and is desperate to meet her new best friend in the flesh.  But nothing goes according to plan and Robyn is aghast when Jace insists on accompanying her, whilst Katherine is disappointed to learn that Lorna won’t be coming.  However, an Austen weekend wouldn’t be the same without a little intrigue, and Robyn and Katherine are about to get much more than they bargained for.  Because where Jane Austen is concerned, romance is never very far away…  Avon, trade paperback, ISBN: 978-1847562258

Austen’s Oeuvre

Pride and Prejudice (Oxford Children’s Classics), by Jane Austen

This is a complete and unabridged text of Austen’s classic beautifully bound with cover art to appeal to a young reader.  This lovely gift-quality edition comes with a book plate page where they can proudly display their name.  I envy them their first reading experience, though the average 9 year old will need some help with the language.  (publisher’s description)  When Elizabeth Bennet first meets Mr. Darcy she finds him to be most arrogant.  He, in turn, is determined not to be impressed by Elizabeth’s beauty and wit.  As events unfold their paths cross with more and more frequency, and their disdain for each other grows.  Can they ever overcome their prejudices and realize that first impressions are not always reliable?  If you love a good story, then look no further.  Oxford Children’s Classics bring together the most unforgettable stories ever told.  They’re books to treasure and return to again and again.  Oxford University Press, USA, Hardcover, ISBN: 978-0192789860, reading level: Ages 9-12

Nonfiction

Jane Austen on Love and Romance, by Constance Moore

This charming quote book is packed full of Austen’s wittiest and most enlightening quotes from her novels and letters to advize the lovelorn, unrequited and amorously deprived.  The vintage illustrations and beautiful design of this little jewel will make it great for gift-giving. Read with a full bottle of wine and you’ll totally forget that rapacious roué what’s his name.  (publisher’s description)   “There are certainly not so many men of large fortune in the world, as there are pretty women to deserve them”. “How little of permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue”.  Many of us have come across an aloof Mr. Darcy or have fallen under the spell of a rakish Mr. Wickham along the rocky path to true love, and it is these oh-so-true-to-life characters and her witty, gossipy, yet heartfelt observations that make Jane Austen’s novels as pertinent today as when they were first written over two hundred years ago.  This collection of quotations, including extracts from letters to family and friends, accompanied by the illustrations of High Thomson, C. E. Brock and H. M. Brock, will soothe those nerves and provide clarity and cultured explanations when it comes to matters of the heart.  If you want to make like Elizabeth Bennet and live happily ever after with a man who owns half of Derbyshire, then arm yourself with this Austentatious guide to flirting and courtship.  Summersdale Publishers, trade paperback, ISBN: 978-1849531054

Jane Austen and Children, by David Selwyn

There has been a rumor circulated for years that Jane Austen did not like children because she did not show them in a positive light in most of her stories. Ha! She loved telling fairy tales to her nieces and nephews so I doubt very much that she disliked children personally.  This new nonfiction book by Jane Austen Society Chairman and Journal editor David Selwyn explores everything you could ever imagine about Jane Austen’s perspective on children and the cultural context of a Regency and Georgian child.  (publisher’s description)  This title explores the surprisingly important part that children play in the novels of Jane Austen and the contribution they make to understanding her adult characters.  Jane Austen is not usually associated with children – especially since she had none of her own.  But there are in fact more children in her novels than one might at first think.  She herself was from a sizeable family, with numerous nephews and nieces.  She was, by all accounts, good with children and popular with them.  It was therefore natural for her to include them in her novels, even if sometimes offstage.  This book, by one of the world’s leading authorities on Austen, looks at both the real and the literary children in her life – children seen and unseen (and dead); children as models of behaviour, good and bad; as objects of affection, amusement, usefulness, pity, regret, jealousy, resentment; children in the way; children as excuses; and, children as heirs.  In the process, it casts fascinating light on a hitherto largely ignored aspect of her work and the age in which she lived.  Continuum, hardcover, ISBN: 978-1847250414

Until next month, happy reading!

Laurel Ann