The book opens on a masquerade in honor of an acting company, with our fictional Jane Austen in the guise of a Shepardess, and the scene ends with a murdered Harlequin, stabbed during a dramatic soliloquy from Macbeth (the "cursed play"). Harlequin turns out to be Richard Portal, manager of the troupe. A young man is standing over the body, knife in hand, but all is not as it seems, as is usual in mystery books.
It turns out this young man is a relative of Lord Harold, Jane's old nemesis-turned-ally from the first of the Jane Mysteries. Lord Harold and Miss Austen comb the worlds of acting, staging a scene of their own in order to rifle Mr. Portal's papers, and of artistry, as it turns out that the "Wandering Eye" of the title, a mysterious, expensively-made eye portrait had been found on the corpse. As is usual in Ms. Barron's Jane mysteries, one learns much of the cultural history of the Regency period -- the tumultuous politics of the time, the fashions in dress and affectation (Jane runs into some of the dandies of the day), and the ways in which people's reputations her broadcast (imagine, they had gossip columns -- one can't blame current media for starting the practice of nosing into people's private lives!)
I found the solution to the mystery a little disappointing, but the characters much more interesting than in the two previous books. Jane and her sister Cassandra's relationship strains with their increasing age and obvious spinsterhood, Jane reacts to the smearing of her own good name, and Jane loses a very close friend. Ms. Barron has done an excellent job of weaving Jane Austen's real biography (and actual words - I noted several phrases from Austen's own novels and letters inserted liberally into the text) into dramatic action. I think Jane herself would have found these books amusing; we now think of Austen as having a retired, uneventful life, and these books paint a portrait very different. The queen of irony would have smirked.
Back to Reviews pageMary Pat Campbell, last updated July 2001