Austenesque, Book Reviews, Historical Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Fiction, Regency Era

Jane and the Man of the Cloth: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Book 2), 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 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
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

Jane Austen Inspired

Austen Tattler: News and Gossip on the Blogosphere

“All that she wants is gossip, and she only likes me now because I supply it.”
Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 31

Jane Austen around the blogosphere for the week of October 6th

Actress Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility 1995) has reached national treasure status according to  interviewer Karen Price of the Western Mail who spoke with her before the opening of Brideshead Revisited in the UK this week. She is always a surprising and amusing in life, and on the screen. I saw this version when it opened in the US in July and enjoyed her performance, though the adaptation by Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice 1995, Emma, Northanger Abbey 2007, and Sense and Sensibility 2008) had to be so condensed for the two hour movie that it seemed like an entirely different story than the BBC miniseries of the 1980’s or the Evelyn Waugh novel. Her co-stars Hayley Atwell (Mansfield Park 2007) and Joseph Beatie (Mansfield Park 2007) were also excellent, and the movie is well worth renting the DVD of just for the locations and fabulous costumes.

Even though Matthew Macfayden went all Byronic on us as Mr. Darcy in the 2005 movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, he can also do comedy and drama with equal aplomb. Pride and Prejudice (2005) Blog was updates on all his latest projects including Frost/Nixon and Incendiary.

Have lunch with Andrew Davies (well almost) and interviewer John Lloyd who thinks that Davies has shaped the literary imagination of millions (that may be true, but it is a daunting thought for this writer). His latest project airing this month on the BBC is an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit staring a formidable cast of classic actors including Austen connects with Matthew Macfayden (Pride and Prejudice 2005), Robert Hardy (Northanger Abbey 1986), and Judy Parfitt (Pride and Prejudice 1979). Mabe it will make it acrosss the pond to PBS next season? Hope so.

Did Jane Austen like children? Old Fogey blog takes a shot at his interpretation of Jane Austen’s view of children in her books and letters with his post on More Cake than is Good for Them. I always enjoy reading his insights on Austen, even though I may not always agree with him!

Classic Reader a website of e-texts of many classic novels offers a nice brief biography of Jane Austen and includes the six major novels and novella Lady Susan for reading online. Also included are is an extensive library of classic titles such as The Castle of Orantano by Horace Warpole, Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, poetry and nonfiction works, so check it out!

Austen and Austen-esque book reviews for the week: Just Jane, Persuasion, A Cure for All Diseases, Mansfield Park, Jane and the Man of the Cloth, Lydia Bennet’s Story, Pride and Prejudice, Bride and Prejudice Movie, The Jane Austen Handbook, Persuasion, The Jane Austen Book Club, The Darcys and the Bingleys, Me and Mr. Darcy, and The Independence of Mary Bennet.

Australian author Colleen McCoullough’s new Austen-esque book The Independence of Mary Bennet is getting a bit of press in Australia since its release there on October 1st. The interviews of the author are bristly as she is quite outspoken, ahem. The reaction by Austen enthusiasts is not surprising, since we do defend our Jane, and are unguarded and outspoken about others those who use her name or characters to make money. Here are few reactions from Austenblog and Barbwired.

Austen-esque author Sharon Lathan asks, Another ‘Pride and Prejudice’ sequel…Really? on the Casablanca Authors blog, then proceeds to explain her reasons which I can not argue with but some may. Jill Pitkeathley of newly released Cassandra and Jane chats with A Circle of Books,  Jane Odiwe of Lydia Bennet’s Story is interviewed by Ms. Place (Vic) of Jane Austen’s World,

The  beautiful color 2009 A Year with Jane Austen wall calendars produced by JASNA Wisconsin are available and a very worthy addition including great daily events through the calendar year from the novels and significant events in Jane Austen’s life. Be informed every day of what happened in Jane Austen’s world. What Janeite could need more, well maybe a book and a movie or two.

The AGM of JASNA concluded in Chicago and now we get to read about all of the wonderful experiences had by many there. Janeite Deb of Jane Austen in Vermont blog does Day 1, shops (bless her), and tells us all about the great books she found, and now on to Day 2. Mags of AustenBlog gives us a daily breakdown of, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4. Now that is dedication!

Emma the musical officially opens tonight in St. Louis, Missouri at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Penned, scored and lyrics by Paul Gordon, the Toni nominated composer of Jane Eyre, the reviews have been mixed, so we shall see how Miss Woodhouse charms the audience.

The Cleveland Heights Janeites had an Austen celebration last week, and it was all things Jane all around. Read this charming article by reporter Laura Johnston of the The Plain Dealer, who must be a Janeite herself to be so knowledgeable (or good at her research).

Find out why Elizabeth Bennet never got fat! Enuf said!!! and all about miniature portraitist George Englheart who has more Austen connections than Jane Austen’s boy toy Tom Lefroy.

Reporter Judith Egerton gushes about the new Jon Jory production of Pride and Prejudice on stage in Lousiville, Kentucky through November 2nd. I wonder if her love of Jane Austen is genetic? Could she be a descendant of Thomas Egerton who first published Pride and Prejudice in 1813?  ;)

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey continues here at Austenprose until October 31st. The group read is progressing and we are up to chapter 10 as heronine in the making Catherine Morland was just danced with Mr. Tilney (lucky girl). It’s not too late to join in the group read and all the guest bloggers and giveaways. You can read the progress to date at my co-blog, Jane Austen Today. Thanks to the many bloggers and readers who went Gothic with us and are joining in; Kimberly’s Cup, Blue Archipelago, Tea, Toast and a Book, This is so Silly, KimPossible, and Kindred Spirits. It has been great fun to read your opinions. Keep them comming!

Until next week, happy Jane sighting,

Laurel Ann