In three highly diverting mysteries, Jane Austen has shown herself a clever hand at unraveling the deadly knots woven by the unscrupulous. Now, in her latest engrossing adventure, Jane is called upon to solve a shattering crime that may begin and end in one man's heart--or encompass the fate of an entire nation.
In the waning days of summer, Jane Austen is off to the Canterbury Races, where the rich and fashionable go to gamble away their fortunes. It is an atmosphere ripe for scandal. But even Jane is unprepared for the shocking drama that ensues when a raven-haired wanton in a scarlet riding habit takes center stage. She is Fran�oise Grey, a flamboyant French beauty who has cast a spell over the gentlemen of Kent...and her unbridled behavior at the races invites the most scandalous speculation.
What can Mrs. Grey be thinking, Jane wonders, to so brazenly strike a gentleman with her whip? And what recklessness then spurs her to leap the rail on her fleet black horse and join the race? Only hours after Mrs. Grey has departed the race grounds in triumph will Jane realize the full import of her questions. For in a shabby chaise less than a hundred feet from where Jane sat, the impossible is revealed: Mrs. Grey's lifeless body, gruesomely strangled, her ruby riding habit nowhere to be found.
As those around her rush to arrest the owner of the chaise--a known scoundrel with eyes for Fran�oise--Jane looks further afield to find a number of others behaving oddly, including the dashing military man caught rifling through the dead woman's desk, the widower who does not appear to be grieving, and the shy governess curiously overpowered by the horror of the Frenchwoman's death.
As rumors spread like wildfire that Napoleon's fleet is bound for Kent, Jane begins to suspect that Fran�oise Grey's murder was an act of war rather than a crime of passion. The peaceful fields of Kent have become a very dangerous place...and Jane's thirst for justice may exact the steepest price of all--her life.
Deliciously sinister and splendidly wrought, Jane and the Genius of the Place is a stylish puzzler that only the incomparable Jane Austen could hope to crack. And in her capable hands, the solving of it is a pleasure to watch.
In this diverting but rather labored installment in Barron's popular Jane Austen mystery series (Jane and the Wandering Eye, 1997, etc.), Barron opens the drawing rooms to political winds, as Jane tackles a murder with possible links to Napoleon's threatened invasion of the English coastline. Sojourning in Kent at the lavish estate of her brother Neddie and his wife, Lizzy, Jane attends the Canterbury Races, where she witnesses a bizarre series of events. A French-born seductress named Francoise Grey strikes an unknown gentleman with her whip; after the race, Mrs. Grey dramatically drives off and, later, her corpse, "quite devoid of her scarlet [riding] habit," is found back on the racegrounds in the chaise of scoundrel Denys Collingforth. All of Kent clamors for Neddie, a Justice of the Peace, to arrest Collingforth, but Jane persuades him to investigate further. As the town prepares for evacuation, Jane and Neddie interrogate sundry suspicious characters, including the widowed Valentine Grey, a shadowy banker whose professed ignorance of his late wife's adultery rings false; the unctuous Comte de Penfleur, Mrs. Grey's relative and possible lover; and Anne Sharpe, the Austen family's governess, whose distress at the death is unaccountably extreme. Once again, Barron artfully replicates Austen's voice, sketches several delightful portraits (especially of the elegant and playful Lizzy) and dazzles her audience with period details. But the plot is both static and convoluted, and the revelation of the murderer is overburdened with historical significance, a far cry from the real Jane Austen's light style. Author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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January 31, 2000
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Excerpt from Jane and the Genius of the Place by Stephanie Barron
It was a chastened and despondent Henry who rejoined the Godmersham party a half-hour later. "I am sure that some great mischief has befallen the poor beast." He sagged against the seat cushions and accepted a glass of ginger beer. "He looked off in the near hind. Perhaps the weights--" "He looked off for the duration of the heat, my dear brother," said Neddie sourly. He was quite winded, and much put out at the devil's chase he had run. "Although I confess my position was too poor to permit of a good view. We should better have gone mounted, like Mrs. Grey." As tho' conjured by my brother's thought, the figure in scarlet pranced into view near the stylish perch phaeton. She dismounted with a flourish, and thrust the reins at her tyger. Behind her, at a discreet pace, advanced the filly Josephine and her jockey--both looking whipped by the very hounds of Hell, as perhaps they had been. It cannot be comfortable or easy to race in a determined heat, with most of Kent at one's heels. Mrs. Grey tossed a beautiful gold plate--Canterbury's Race Week prize--into the perch phaeton, with as much disregard as tho' it were a pair of old shoes. She handed a small leather coin pouch to the jockey, and reached a gloved hand to pat the filly's lathered flank. Then, with an insouciance possible only for one who moves under an hundred eyes, she stepped into her carriage, took up the reins, and snapped them smartly over the matched greys' necks. Several of the watching gentlemen cheered. The tyger touched his cap as she turned, his expression wooden; then he and the jockey led their mounts slowly through the milling crowd, in the direction of the stableyard. "What did I tell you?" Lizzy said languidly. "She shall be established on her sofa while the rest of us are still trapped on the Canterbury road. Detestable woman." "Do not speak of her, pray." Henry took a long draught. "My dear Eliza will have it that there is nothing like a Frenchwoman for winning, you know--and I declare I begin to be of her opinion. Did you see that grey-eyed jade, Neddie, spurring her mount for all she was worth?" "I believe Mrs. Grey's eyes to be brown, Henry," my brother absently replied. "Grey--brown--but upon my word, the Furies ain't in it! I might almost believe her to have cursed the Commodore as he rounded the rail. She has quite the look of the witch about her, however much she affects a veil." "Now, Henry." I patted his hand. "Let us have no conduct unbecoming to a gentleman. You are to be an example for the children, in this as in so many things. Your disappointment may serve as a cautionary chapter in the annals of the Sporting Life. I see the illustration now, in my mind's eye: A Gentleman Unbowed by the Vagaries of Fortune." "--However driven upon the poorhouse," he muttered, unreconciled. "The poorhouse!" I smiled at him conspiratorially, and dropped my voice to a whisper. "Then take comfort, Henry. You shall not travel there alone. The excellent Mr. Bridges is to cheer your solitude, for he named the Commodore as the salvation of all his hopes." "Am I then to encompass others in my ruin?" Henry groaned in mock despair. "The reproaches that shall be mine! And how am I