Friday, October 28, 2011
Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron
"Three years ago, after a night of reckless gaming, Curzon Fiske fled England for an uncertain future in India, leaving scandal and prodigious debts behind him. When news of his death from fever in Ceylon reached his raven-haired wife, Adelaide, she mourned him for a time—then quietly restored her damaged reputation.
Now Adelaide is at the altar again, her groom a soldier on the Marquis of Wellington's staff. The prospects seem bright for one of the most notorious women in Kent—until Jane Austen discovers a corpse on the ancient Pilgrim's Way that runs through her brother Edward's estate. Why is the dead stranger dressed as a pilgrim, and who wrote the summons he carries in his pocket? Who is the aristocrat masquerading as a sailor? And why will none of Adelaide's friends reveal Curzon Fiske's final wager, the night he abandoned his wife? As Chief Magistrate for Canterbury, Edward is forced to investigate, with Jane as his unwilling assistant. From the shooting parties and balls of her wellborn neighbors, to the grim and airless cells of Canterbury gaol, Jane leaves no stone unturned. When a second corpse appears beside the ancient Pilgrim's Way, Jane has no choice but to confront a murderer...lest the next corpse be her own...."
(synopsis from Stephanie Barron's website)
Since the synopsis above so succinctly summarizes Jane and the Canterbury Tale, I'm just going to cut to the chase.
I could easily picture dear Jane each evening, after retiring to her room at her brother's home, drawing close to the warmth of a fire to reflect on the days' events and journal her thoughts in her little sewn notebooks. In this autumn of 1813 (only a few years before her actual death), she has come to spend some time at Godmersham Park with brother Edward and his family. Relishing the change of pace from quiet country living, she is enjoying the pleasure of parties and social events in the Canterbury area making mental notes about the people and places to help enrich her novel writing. As the story opens, she is attending the glittering wedding of the beautiful Adelaide Fiske and Captain Andrew MacCallister at Chilham Castle and keeping a close eye on her popular niece Fanny and her beaux. While the guests are enjoying dancing and toasting the happy bride and groom, a mysterious package from a stranger is delivered to the bride....and thus begins a series of mysterious and tragic events, including two dead bodies, that will require all of Jane's keen powers of observation and crime-solving skills as she assists Edward with his magesterial duties.
Lovely storytelling in Austen's voice and a tie-in to Chaucer's Canterbury Tale, Barron's cast of characters each has a story to tell on the road to solving the multiple mysteries -- why was Adelaide's first husband (who was supposed to be dead) still alive at the time of the wedding? Who sent a mysterious package to the bride on her wedding night, and what does it mean? Who has a motive for murder...and who will be the next victim?
I have been enjoying this series as part of the Austenprose Jane Austen Mystery Challenge as I always come away from the books marvelling at Barron's expertise and obvious devotion to the Austen style. Barron weaves actual events in Austen's life as a backdrop for her mysteries, and her depiction of Regency life and customs makes her books entertaining as well as informative.
Title: Jane and the Canterbury Tale
Author: Stephanie Barron
genre: Historical fiction/Regency mystery