Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, April 07, 2017

My Series-ous Reading unravels Jane's Man of the Cloth

I must confess to feeling rather satisfied at the progress of my Series-ous Reading challenge as the second book in Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen Mystery saga, Jane and The Man of the Cloth, was finished today.

That makes the first three books in that particular set of mysteries completed(the third having been read for a prior challenge) and I look forward to more but not just yet. Before I get too ahead of myself, let's talk about this Jane Austen adventure which sends our heroine and her loved ones to Lyme Regis for a bit of seaside fun.

Their arrival starts off with a bang, as the coach they're traveling in is overturned during a storm, complete with a large tree blocking the road. With Cassandra injured and her parents in danger of being made ill by remaining out in the storm for too long, Jane seeks refuge at the nearest house, which happens to be High Down Grange.

High Down is the property of Geoffrey Sidmouth, a rather taciturn man who nonetheless lends a helping hand and give the Austen family some shelter until Cassandra is well enough to be moved.

 As grateful as she is for such assistance, Jane can not ignore the odd atmosphere around High Down and the secretive nature of their host, especially when it concerns his French cousin Seraphine LeFevre, a woman of mystery given to walking alone at all hours and always looking towards the sea:

Jane hopes to learn more about Seraphine and Mr. Sidmouth during her sister's convalescence in town but most of the information available is idle gossip supplied by such ladies as Mrs. Barnewell, a take no prisoners type of matron, and Miss Crawford, whose brother has a fondness for fossil digging, an interest shared by Jane's father.

For more regarding Mr. Sidmouth's reputation, Jane finds a rather chatty source in meeting Captain Fielding, a retired Navy man with an injury that limits his mobility yet not his mind.

 He suspects Sidmouth of being the local smuggling ring leader known as the Reverend, as the nickname "Man of the Cloth" refers to bringing in silk, an item restricted by the current troubles with France. While Jane does agree that Mr. Sidmouth's overprotective nature regarding his cousin and Captain Fielding(who had an encounter with that lady that no one wishes to speak of), she is not quite sure of being ready to convict him of such crimes without proof:

When Captain Fielding is found dead some time later, shot through the heart on a country road, Jane is shocked yet wondering if Mr. Sidmouth had something to do with it. She did witness him being rather sympathetic to a band of local smugglers in an early morning attempt to catch them out and couldn't help considering that his interest in the matter was self motivated.

 Connections to the murder are made to a bizarre incident involving a hanged man which leads to Sidmouth being arrested and Jane going forward to seeking the truth of the matter.

 As her limited yet resourceful investigations seem to prove, Sidmouth and Seraphine are keeping smuggling secrets but for better purposes than those eager to set them up for crimes they didn't commit:

I have to say that while this story began at a slower pace than the previous book when it came to the mystery element, the air of adventure and discovery as Jane went off on her own there more than made up for that.

It was good to see Jane be creative and use what sources she had on hand to figure out the case and for the most part, rely on herself(with some aid from a surprise guest towards the end), no small feat indeed. The romantic feelings she did develop for Sidmouth were gently portrayed and considering the setting, a hint of what inspiration lead her to write Persuasion later on life.

Jane and The Man of the Cloth was a delightful read that went well with the waning days of winter and I do plan to visit Stephanie Barron's literary detective in the warmer seasons to come. In the meantime, my next visit is a "Series Sampler"-the first book in a series I've never read before-and hopefully, I will have completed Anne of Green Gables well before the latest adaptation arrives on Netflix this spring:

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