There are more than a few literary tragedies -- the burning of the Library at Alexandria and Coleridge's ill-timed caller come to mind -- and among them one must list Cassandra Austen's burning of the majority of her sister Jane's letters. Despite the loss of this treasure trove, Stephanie Barron manages to capture the style and spirit of Miss Jane's lovely prose, and she does so within the framework of cozy murder mysteries. The series is highly entertaining, and this fourth installment is no exception. Though the mystery is fairly transparent (It's easy to figure out what happened, though it takes a while to figure out whodunit), the language is elegant and witty and we learn a lot about Britain's Great Terror, landscaping, horses and even Jane Austen and her family. My next visit to England will definitely include a visit to Godmersham! Though I would appreciate an author's note detailing the fictional status of the characters, I am puzzled by the complaints about learning. When knowledge is gained so painlessly, why would one choose mindless entertainment?
This story takes place near Jane's brother Edward's estate, Godmersham, in Kent, at the time if the Canterbury Races. At first I was disappointed that some of the series' most endearing characters were missing -- Eliza and Sir Harold Trowbridge are only mentioned or appear briefly. I was not as disappointed to have Jane's mother and sister absent, as Cassandra is basically a wet blanket in this series and Mother is very annoying. But I was pleasantly surprised to become better acquainted not only with Jane's brothers Neddie and Henry, but also Neddie's wife Lizzy and daughter Fanny. These characters are a lot of fun, and scenes of the family gathering to try and reason out matters are particularly engaging. I agree with the reviewer who said that Julian Sothey's devotion to Anne Sharpe did not seem justified, but otherwise thought that the characters here were quite engaging and beautifully drawn.
In addition to being historically accurate, Ms. Barron takes pains to incorporate real events from Jane Austen's experience into the story, and if you also have a copy of Jane Austen's Letters, you will be delighted to read those from the same time period and find the correspondence (so to speak) between events real and fictional.
One trusts Miss Jane would approve.