on May 29, 2000
Stephanie Barron has created a delightful mystery series that captures the essence of Austen for a modern-day audience. Readers who know Jane Austen through only her novels (and not her letters, for example) may not always recognize Barron's sophisticated integration of fact with fiction, but anyone familiar with Austen's biography will surely enjoy the imagination and cleverness of this series. Mystery lovers and all but the most curmudgeonly of Austen fans will enjoy this well-written tale as well.
The first in the series, this book introduces Jane-as-sleuth along with the cast of supporting characters. Barron is true to Austen's character and life (as much as we know of it, anyway) and has written a solid mystery also. Thoroughly enjoyable.
on October 30, 2006
My local library has the whole Stephanie Barron Jane Austen Mystery series. At first, I was a little put off by the language, and like a couple of other reviewers, thought the language more than a little affected. Yet Ms. Barron is trying to capture the style of Jane Austen, and that is no easy feat. Once I got over my initial reservation about the (overly prim and proper) writing style, I really enjoyed this book. Ms. Barron has obviously done her research and integrates many true accounts of Jane's life into these mysteries (I'm now on the second book, Jane and the Man of the Cloth). For example, Jane had recently recanted her promise to marry a Mr. Bigg-Wither, and the First Jane Austen Mystery takes place shortly after Jane's refusal and fictionalizes how Jane sought solace by visiting a newly married friend, the Countess of Scargrave (who will soon be framed for murder).
I'm not such a purist that I take deep, personal offense at Stephanie Barron's decision to interpolate quotes from Jane Austen's novels into these books, as though Jane was thinking them up at the moment or recording them in her letters and diary. (Some other reviewers thought this "borrowing" an unpardonable breach of copyright, if not moral probity). And you more than get the idea that our famous Darcy was based upon Lord Fitzroy Payne, the (unconsummated) love interest of the Countess of Scargrave. (Though he never was so tactless as to insult Isobel Scargrave's appearance.)
Jane isn't quite the infallibe Miss Marple--she puts many pieces of the puzzle together, but doesn't quite get it right til the very end, when the would-be murderer saves her life.
I really wish that PBS Mystery would produce this series. If it was well done, what a following it would have! And what young British actress wouldn't want to play a 27-year old Jane? (Of course, please don't cast Keira Knightley b/c she's too pretty to play Jane! I made the very same complaint for her having been cast as Elizabeth in P&P.)
All in all, lots of fun, though addictive. I have tons of things on my "to-do list," yet I often neglect what I should be doing in order to sneak in a few chapters.
on June 18, 2003
I purchased this book with a little trepidation after reading some of the reviews. I read it straight after reading a very well-crafted work of non-fiction, so initially the style of writing irritated me slightly, and I had to try to ignore the odd thought such as, "Jane would not have said/written that"...
That said, once you put out of your mind the Austen connection, and just enjoy it as a light, historical mystery, it stacks up pretty well. I enjoyed the book enough to now buy and read the others in the series.
on December 30, 2004
I was not sure what to expect when I took up "Scargrave". That the reviews fell left and right of a purists divide did not surprise me. That I would enjoy it so much for so many reasons, I did not expect.
I am not a Regency scholar. I have however read many works of "Regency" authors and felt bludgeoned by the text. Not with Barron. The words "bright" and "sparkling" come to mind (blasphemy?!). I was comfortable with the voice given to JA...it did not jar; rather it felt as I would imagine her in writing to her sister or her nieces.
I also am comfortable with Jane's behavior, which was questioned by other reviewers stressing her refinement, etc. That's as may be, but she proves in her writings to have a sarcastic bent and is frequently snarky. By her very nature as a published authoress, she pushed the Regency non-envelope. Retreating from a failed betrothal and called upon to defend the friend who took her in, I can see her rising to the occasion (though perhaps not wishing her name to attach to it.)
The mystery was satisfying enough to serve...I had only nailed it within about 50%. I especially liked the expansion (through footnotes) of some key concepts.
I'll make sure to read the rest, though I will say I hope the author does not continue to cast JA as an unrealized angel for all future cads and wastrels. She does not benefit from the tragic cast and it does not ring true.
What a wonderful idea -- the astute and observant Jane Austen as amateur detective in the English countryside! Of late I have been underwhelmed by several Austen homages and a few mystery novels, but author Stephanie Barron seems to have got it right on both fronts. While no one has ever duplicated Jane Austen's combination of wit and elegance, of the recent authors Ms. Barron comes closest in my opinion, though I do find her occasional use of sentences lifted directly from the original works disruptive. You can tell that Ms. Barron did her research, and she fluidly incorporates people and events from JA's life into the story in an entertaining way.
In addition, the mystery is a good one, interesting and plausible. Personally I liked the footnotes, which are neither idiotic nor ubiquitous, as some have stated; there are approximately 40 notes, which are generally brief, informative and interesting -- and easily ignored if one so chooses.
I thought the one weakness of the novel was Isobel, Jane's friend and the accused murderess in whose interest Jane acts. She pouts and whines and is inconstant -- certainly not the kind of person one would imagine appealing to Jane. Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and will definitely read others in the series.
on January 26, 2001
Barron does a good job imitating Austen's narratorial voice, better than many of the Austen imitators currently cashing in on the author's renewed popularity, and she is quite skilled at representing social conventions and manners from the early nineteenth century. Certainly Barron is not out to write "serious" literature with this series, but the novels are fun for Janeites, mystery lovers, or anglophiles who want something fun but different for their leisure reading. Those who are intimately familiar with Austen's works may chuckle and then groan at some of Barron's "borrowings" of both phrase and character, but the Scargrave Manor mystery is greatly enhanced by the presence of Lord Harold Trowbridge. I also particularly like the way Barron handles Jane's personal relationships with her friends and family, and I enjoy the way Jane's detective work is often hampered by the social and sexual codes of her age. I would definitely recommend this book to readers who want light reading that is still intelligently written!
on August 5, 2001
I will credit Stephanie Barron with being very clever in blending the known facts of Jane Austen's life with her fairly average murder mysteries. I also appreciate her informative footnotes about references about the Regency era, both obscure and more commonplace. My only real caveat about this book and the others in the series (I have read only the first three) is that Ms. Barron makes the retiring and proper Miss Austen behave with untoward and unladylike forwardness to achieve her ends as an unlikely sleuth. In truth, it is totally against the accepted character of the redoubtable Jane to imagine her taking so much upon herself, interferring in matters so vulgar and acting in a fashion that borders on impropriety. Ms. Barron also makes Jane seem snappish, even rude, behavior she would in reality eschew with a shudder. If the mysteries were more compelling or more cleverly crafted, this out-of-character portrait might be more readily forgiven. As it is, the books do not add to the reader's understanding of Miss Austen or her books, but rather draw her as much more the vulgar interferring miss than we know her to have been. If the author did not claim her work as a true illumination of Jane's nature, this series would be more enjoyable as simple mysteries set in the fascinating Regency era, with all its colorful historical characters, the multiple strata of society -- a time renowned for both louche and restrained behavior and much hypocrisy.
on November 9, 2000
I am only 13 so this isn't going to be perfect. I have loved Jane Austen since before I could remember. This book is so similar to Jane's writing. This is the first mystery book that I could not predict the outcome. Of course I haven't read too many mysteries, but from what I have read, I wasn't exactly chomping at the bit to read another one. But Stephanie Barron has totally changed my mind.If you like unpredictable, interesting, mysteries, this is at the top of my list.
In the begining, Jane is visting her friend Isobel from Bath. Isobel is just recently married to the Earl of Scargrove and having a ball to celebrate. But the joy ends here. That night the earl dies. Then Isobel and her nephew, Lord Payne, recieve a disturbing letter charging the two of murder and adultery. Isobel calls upon Jane to find the truth. This sends Jane on a trail of clues leading her to the scary truth that may have her fearing for her life!
To know the rest read this book.
Stephanie Barron was one of the first authors to base her book, "Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor" on the premise that these are the "long-lost journals" of Jane Austen, herself. In my opinion, no one does it better.
As a deep admirer of Jane Austen's works, Stephanie Barron has brilliantly penned both a suspenseful murder mystery AND kept true to the realism of Jane Austen. I think her books are wonderful.
Footnotes explaining certain customs, historic notes or words are liberally sprinkled throughout the novel. I found their addition to be quite helpful.
However, you will note that there are many divided reviews. If you have ever been the least interested in any of the Jane Austen novels and enjoy mysteries as well, I urge you to try this series. Barron has just had her 7th book in this series published...so obviously she has MANY fans.
Likewise, if you hated Jane Austen's books when you had to read them for English class, then perhaps you should pass this series by - because it is written in the same vein...which is the highest praise I can give the author! A brilliant novel and thoroughly enjoyable mystery!
on May 8, 2003
For true Austen fans, of course, nothing but the original will do, and it will always be possible to spot flaws in imitations or paeans (this book falls into the latter category). But that said, Barron does a really splendid job at recreating Austen's world--even providing footnotes to explain certain practices or terms that might escape any but an historian of the era. (The footnotes are quite fun, in fact).
It's thrilling to see Jane come alive in these books, and while some of Austen's pickier and more prudish readers might take issue with Jane's aggressive and resourceful forays into mystery-solving, fans with a sense of humor and an appreciation for Barron's wonderful imagination will, I think, be able to wink at such anachronisms and genuinely enjoy the books as they deserve to be enjoyed. (Besides, we know comparatively little about the real Jane Austen, and I for one am quite unwilling to assert that Jane wouldn't have applied her capable intellect to criminal quandaries had the opportunity presented itself).
Besides, Barron's mysteries are themselves a cut above the average, and not at all predictable, mundane, or mediocre. For those who like Austen, Barron's books are all well-worth one's attention. Bravo--excellent job, Ms. Barron.