Forgive me! I’m still enchanted by the setting of a Regency era Twelve Night of festivities, activities, espionage, forbidden love and murder. I have truly enjoyed this series for its blend of historic authenticity, biographic fiction, intrigue and just overall good writing. This last, ah… It felt like my very own Christmas gift from the author. The author purposefully gave her readers a bit of something extraordinary- the chance to vicariously experience the excitement of a Regency Christmas at all strata of class and society from the nobility down to the lowest vicarage servant all told through the eyes of the keen Miss Jane Austen. I suppose when one gets down to it, the mystery element wasn’t as enigmatic as past books, but I didn’t feel its loss particularly when it wasn’t absent just diminished to accommodate the other.
This book is part of a series that follows the chronological timeline of Jane Austen’s adult life through a series of stories presenting a new mystery for her to solve each time. Some are domestic murder mysteries and others involve great affairs of state. So this can be read as a standalone or out of order, but it is best appreciated when connected to all those that went before it.
The story opens when Jane, Cassandra and Mrs. Austen travel from Chawton Cottage to spend the holidays with the James Austen family. A little adventure occurs when James’ parsimonious ways nearly get them all killed when their cart without the lanterns in a snowstorm is clipped by a larger private coach. They meet Rafael West, the son of famous artist, Benjamin West, and an artist in his own right who is in a dreadful hurry.
Later when they along with the stern James and his hypochondriac wife Mary get an invitation to join the Chute family at The Vyne for a hunt and festivities, they meet up again with Mr. West and a few others that make up a party. Jane is relieved to be part of the larger, more hospitable group, but soon notices that there is a mystery afoot. She is only mildly intrigued until a Navy messenger with ties to some of the guests is the victim of a clever murder and a very important document he was carrying goes missing. Jane’s sleuthing partner becomes none other than Rafael West.
As the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany stretch out, Jane’s time is divided between holiday festivities, family and the murder mystery. Danger lurks close as she and Rafael track the killer. Jane is also aware that she only has the length of her stay to figure things out because like her, the other guests will depart at the end of the holidays.
I confess that I find this series a breath of fresh air in many ways. Jane is the main protagonist and she is not at all what one generally gets in the way of a heroine. She is mild-aged, plain, sensible, and shabby genteel. She is no great mover and shaker and not at all a romantic figure. And yet, she slices right to the heart of matters and gets the job done. I have no trouble imagining that if the real Jane Austen had encountered these murders and puzzles that she would have behaved in just such a matter. She even inspires many a male to regard her with warmer feelings and great respect. The author gave her a few little romantic interludes throughout the series and hinted at one in this one though generally any full-blown romances occur amongst the secondary players.
I’ve enjoyed also that the author isn’t afraid to write in real people as characters that cross Jane’s path and that real events, places, and all sorts of details make their way into the book. Not being a historian, but appreciating history, I detected no jarring notes of dialogue or description. Just the colorfully painted settings and scenes regarding the holidays totally captivated me. I found it interesting that Christmas is the solemn day of church and reflection and Twelfth Night is the day of revelry. The Georgians really knew how to throw a party.
The secondary characters were a real treat too. I loved having more time with Cassandra and though Jane has spent a lot of time with her other brothers in the series this was my first real glimpse of her eldest brother, James and his family. Whew! Both James and Mary were a trial with even gentle, sweet Cass pushed to argument. I had some feelings for them after learning that James loved his first wife and only married Mary to help rear his little girl and that Mary was bitter and resentful knowing that she didn’t have his true regard. Pity didn’t push me into liking these two. The other surrounding characters from the house party and the neighborhood were all so deftly drawn that I found each and every one interesting.
Like I said, the mystery was secondary in this one. Normally, I have a bit of trouble working them out, but I didn’t this time. It was still engaging and gave a few surprises. I enjoyed Jane and Rafael working on the case together probably the most when it came to this part of the plot.
To wrap it all up in a pretty Christmas bow, I loved it through and through. Fans of the series and Austenesque lovers will definitely appreciate this bit of lovely that Ms. Barron wrote us. I would recommend this series to those who enjoy historical era cozy mysteries, historical fiction fans and even historical romantic suspense fans who can appreciate a slow developing, descriptive plot.
My thanks to Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.
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