Thursday, July 14, 2016

Jane and the Waterloo Map by Stephanie Barron

I am a Janeite. While my membership has lapsed (I really should rejoin), I was a longtime member of JASNA. I took a seminar on Jane Austen in college and so yes, I have read all the novels, some a few times. I have seen all the movies from the last 20 years, some scores of times. I am the audience for these books. And what fun this book was!

Jane Austen is visiting her brother in London as he is very ill. She is invited by the Price regent's librarian to his London house, and while there, she stumbles across a dying man in the library, and hears his last words: "Waterloo map." They find this map and also clear signs that he has been poisoned. Concerned for the safety of this map, she tries to find out more, and is bludgeoned in the head for her troubles. She enlists the help of the artist Raphael West and her niece Fanny (and eventually her brother Henry after he's recovered), and in the end, uncovers the truth of the murder and the map.

This is an adorable cozy mystery. Not so cozy that people aren't murdered and in danger, and there are a couple of bludgeonings and a possible second murder, but at the same time, Jane is concerned about her clothing at the Prince Regent's, and is wondering if Mr. West might be interesting in courting her, and is trying to push young fanny into the path of an eligible young man. Ms. Barron has thoroughly done her research, and this novel fits in perfectly with the known facts of Ms. Austen's whereabouts and doings at the time. She is reviewing the proof pages of Emma before it goes to press, and in a debate with the court librarian about dedicating Emma to the Prince Regent (who Ms. Austen dislikes a great deal, but she was informed what a great honor it would be for her to dedicate the book to him with his permission. It's not a request exactly. And in fact Jane Austen did dislike the Prince Regent and she did dedicate Emma to him.) For Jane Austen fans, the character of Jane here appears to act in character with what we know of her, and the facts all line up, so it's a delightful imagining of what could have been, had Jane Austen been a precursor to Nancy Drew in between writing her novels. I have the previous book and will read that one pretty quick as this book was just sheer fun and pleasant distraction through and through.

This book is published by Soho Press, my employer.

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