Fortunately, I had a lovely distraction in the form of Seasons of Reading's annual Christmas Spirit readathon which allowed me to indulge in a trio of mysteries involving Jane Austen. Granted, I finished two out of the three books that I intended to read but it was still a grand page turning time nonetheless.
The first to be finished was the third book in Stephanie Barron's "Being a Jane Austen mystery" series, Jane and the Wandering Eye. This story finds our Miss Austen in Bath during the Christmas season of 1804. With that city not being a particular favorite of hers, she is happy to accept a commission from Lord Harold Trowbridge(who does a bit of secret service for king and country there) to keep an eye on his niece Lady Desdemona. She has just ended a romance with the unsavory Earl of Swithin and gone to Bath to avoid him all together.
More than willing to help, Jane risks her safety along with her public reputation(her being seen with Lord Harold gets the gossips talking) but her real risk is keeping her dear sister Cassandra in the dark about what she and Lord Harold are doing.
While I haven't read Barron's series in their proper order just yet, I found this book(as well as Jane and the Waterloo Map, which I read last year) very easy to get into. It does help to have a firm knowledge of Austen's life and times here. During the course of the novel, several real life characters are introduced,with one having a less than happy connection to Thomas Jefferson, and insights into the Austen family are showcased, adding a special bit of extra fictional flavor.
I do intend to read more of this series and this particular entry inspired me to re-watch Northanger Abbey, as it's section in Bath and mysterious plot points were brought to mind, although the Jane of this story is clearly much more worldly than Catherine Morland was:
During a roadside incident involving a carriage and the donkey cart that the Austen women are being transported in, Jane makes a new acquaintance who is on his way to The Vyne, the ancestral home of the renowned Chute family. Due to this mishap, Jane is destined to receive an invitation to that household for some much needed fun but a murder is bound to happen before the last day of Yuletide ends.
So far, this book is agreeably charming and I do wonder if some of the carriage trouble described here had a touch of inspiration from another untimely carriage ride for a rather famous Austen heroine:
To round things off, I completed my reread of The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig last night. This particular entry in her Pink Carnation series is meant as a special holiday treat to those who adore the humorous hijnks of a certain supporting character, Reginald "Turnip" Fitzhugh.
While Turnip may not be the cleverest of men, his innate decency and good humor are enough to charm Arabella Dempsey, the new teacher at his sister Sally's school. When the two of them literally run into each other and discover a secret message in a Christmas plum pudding, romantic sparks fly as does an air of intrigue.
Jane Austen has a small supporting role here, as an old family friend of Arabella's, and since Willig was inspired by The Watsons, an unfinished work of Austen's, when creating this particular heroine, Jane's presence was fitting indeed.
Having read a couple of the other Pink Carnation books(I so need to catch up!), I was familiar with a few other characters from this world that made their appearances within the story and the author was good enough to add a special section towards the end of the book that explained who they were. All in all, TMOTM is a true seasonal treat that is always in style:
Well, I do feel as if the holiday season has begun and much thanks to Seasons of Reading for giving all of us readers a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle to renew our literary spirits.
Jane Austen has become a source of inspiration for writers and readers alike and as the end of this particular year approaches, it would do us well to take some solace and sensibility from works by her as well as in the spirit of her art.
She may not have written much about the Christmas season yet the themes of family, hope and enduring love that came from her pen do suit this time of year so. Even if Jane is caught up in a mystery or a genre that seems far from home, so to speak, her vibrant spirit offers any muse a good deal of merriment and joy that makes any story a gift to be opened again and again: