Written by Stephanie Barron
Mysteries that take place during the Regency Age throughout England
Warning: The following series premise contains minor character development spoilers that are revealed in tidbits throughout the series. However, I have only revealed what I felt was necessary to give a complete and accurate overview; I promise there is plenty here that is left unsaid.
The Jane Austen Mysteries series by Stephanie Barron is noteworthy and enjoyable for several reasons.
First, Barron has a masterful touch when it comes to adopting the tone, voice and syntax of Austen which is absolutely crucial for any author who chooses to enter the pastiche genre. Many an author has failed where Barron succeeds.
Without attempting to re-write any Austen's works or adopt Austen's character's tones, Barron has almost eerily created a unique, clear voice of Austen's own. It is at once familiar to anyone who has read Austen.
The mysteries are all solved by a usually unwilling Austen forced by either circumstances or her own morals to inadvertently act as a sleuth. Because the mysteries take place in Austen's life, they read like journals with chapters divided by date.
This brings me to the second noteworthy achievement of this series. Barron is clearly both an Austen scholar and fan and, as such, the timeline in the series is surprisingly accurate in paralleling Austen's life. This, in turn, makes the mysteries all the more credible. By using Austen's real-life travels and relatives, an air of authenticity is lent to each of the series' installments that keep it from sliding down the slippery slope into glorified fan fiction.
For example, one of the mysteries occurs when Austen took up residence in Chawton Cottage, another when she went to Bath. The mysteries generally surround a death in the town or village Jane is in. It is here Barron shows her skill the most as, while never changing Austen's socioeconomic status, she manages to allow Jane to poke and probe even on the higher rungs of the social ladder. Often, this is by using the device of a well-written, interesting character, sometimes historical, sometimes not. As such, each mystery is plausible and the armchair sleuth is free to become engrossed in the puzzle.
Ultimately, however, these are works of fiction, and the liberties Barron takes, such as inserting the very handsome, very intriguing Lord Harold Trowbridge into her life, are enjoyable. Even that story line, however, has a very realistic conclusion.
In short, readers of Austen's works will enjoy and recognize the wry social observations Barron skillfully conveys the "author" having. Austen scholars will enjoy how closely to the shoreline of historical fact Barron keeps her vessel of engrossing fiction. Those who are neither but enjoy a good period mystery will most likely not be disappointed, either.