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Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron

Barron’s “Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas” is fittingly the twelfth novel in the “Being a Jane Austen Mystery” series.  Barron continues to write in the style of Jane Austen and uses the nineteenth century writer as a fictional character in the crime-solving series.

Jane and her family are invited to spend the holidays at The Vyne, a large manorhouse several miles from the parsonage at Steventon where Jane’s brother, James is vicar.  The invitation comes after Jane, her sister and mother are run off the road by a carriage with a mysterious gentleman who is headed to The Vyne rather as an apology.  At The Vyne they meet the Gambier’s the wife and young adult son and daughter of an Admiral, Mr. West, the son of a famous painter, and Thomas Vere-Chute, the brother of William Chute, the lord of the manor.   There are also assorted staff at the manor, including Benedict L’Anglois, secretary to Mr. Chute.  A messenger arrives from Admiral Gambier with the original of the Treaty of Ghent that signaled the truce between Great Britain and the United States in the War of 1812.  The charter required Chute’s review and signature as a Member of Parliament.  The young officer is killed before he even gets off The Vyne property the day after her arrived on his way back to London.  Jane finds a thin wire that was used to bring down the officer’s horse and several other clues also point to murder.  There is a second murder a couple days later.  Were the crimes committed by the same hand?

The solution to the murders is absorbing even though there are relatively few potential suspects and relatively little character development to help point toward one or more culprit.  The book also serves as a good reminder of how easy life is for most of us now compared to days before modern utilities and transportation.  A 15 mile trip in winter could easily take a couple days in a conveyance which might only have a few hot bricks to keep the feet warm.  Yet families braved the elements to celebrate the holidays with family and friends just as they do now.

Lovers of this series will enjoy “Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas.” It is certainly appropriate to curl up with this book on a cold winter’s night in front of a roaring fire.

Liz Nichols

 

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Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

Death Comes to Pemberley” is the latest from the grand dame of British mysteries P.D. James.  James has written 20 previous novels over the past 50 years, most of which have been filmed for television.

This particular book uses the characters from Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and projects what might have happened to them after the daughters were married and settled with their own families.  Elizabeth Bennet marries Darcy and moves to his estate, Pemberley.  Sister Jane marries the love of her life, Bingley, and they are happily settled.  Lydia, unfortunately, marries a former soldier who is somewhat of a ladies’ man and an over-spender and is therefore not welcome at Pemberley.

Lydia and her husband, Wickham, decide to surprise the Darcy’s and drop Lydia off at the estate to attend the annual ball while Wickham rides on with a friend to a local inn. The two men have an argument in the coach while in the woodlands adjoining Pemberley and the other fellow gets out to go off by himself.  Wickham pursues his friend, shots are heard, and the coach driver takes the panicked Mrs. Wickham on to Pemberley and rousts several gentlemen to go out on a search party.  Wickham is found slumped over the body of his friend, covered in blood and blaming himself for the other man’s death.  An inquest and a trial ensue as Darcy and an admirer of Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, the attorney, Alveston, try to figure out what happened.  They both find it hard to believe that Wickham could kill a friend and there is little but circumstantial evidence one way or the other to convict or acquit.

Like a Jane Austen novel, the book is full of characters and complicated plot lines.  It is hard at first to keep everyone straight and to concentrate on what is going on.  It is also hard to be very sympathetic with Mr. Wickham even though it is also difficult to picture him as a killer.  He is just such a weak personality that the person one really feels sorry for is his wife.  It is hard to see how Lydia can have anything but a hard life married to that man who brings hard luck upon himself all the time.

It is hard to compare with Jane Austen, and P.D. James doesn’t quite live up to the legendary Austen’s literary style.  However, it is fun having the chance to think about those memorable Austen characters as they get older and possibly wiser.  Other James characters are more compelling because they are uniquely original to James (in particular Commander Adam Dalgliesh). 

Death Comes to Pemberley” was worth reading, but it may disappoint Austen fans and also not be quite up to the greatness of some of James’ other mysteries.

Here’s a link to the trailer on Youtube.

Liz Nichols

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