In this, the fourth of the Jane Austen Mystery series by Stephanie Barron, we are once again drawn into a tale more sordid than the ones we are used to from Jane Austen. Jane attends Canterbury Race Day with some of the Austen clan, witnessing the excitement over straining horses, and being shocked by Mrs. Grey, a rich Frenchwoman with a good taste in racehorses, a genius at shocking the populace, and the bad fate to end up brutally strangled by Race Day's end. Once again, our fictional Jane is close to the investigative action -- this time, it's her brother Neddie, local magistrate, who is in charge of discovering the murderer. There is an obvious suspect, the man who owned the carriage in which Mrs. Grey's body was found (scandalously undressed!), but Mrs. Grey had made enemies of much of the people of the Kentish neighborhood.
As is usual, Stephanie Barron weaves in cultural information of the day -- one starts with some knowledge of the low pursuits of cock-fighting, high-stakes card parties, and speculation on horseracing, but by novel's end one has learned of the new perspectives in landscaping "improvement", a bit on current women's fashions, British troop movements in holding off Napolean's armies, and the financial ramifications of the Napoleanic wars in general. Not all of the historical information is pleasant to learn; Barron reminds us a little bit too often of the August heat making it a necessity for quick inquests and burials. I'm sure the coroners of England were happy when the inquest jury no longer had to examine the corpse for themselves.
As an avid reader of Agatha Christie, I figured out a few of the mystery's puzzles early on, but though I could tell =how= the murder was done, I couldn't tell =who= did it. There are some odd, distracting bits of plot, I believe; however, I do appreciate the little bit of =Emma= that was stolen for the use of this book. It makes for interesting pitfalls; a devoted Janeite will be able to recognize phrases, dialogue, and plot taken from Austen's works, but Barron uses them for her own end and the unwary reader can be caught in surprise twists to the Austen originals. I found the ending of the novel somewhat unsatisfying, but the novel as a whole is entertaining.
Back to Reviews pageMary Pat Campbell, last updated July 2001