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Jane and the Canterbury Tale: Being A Jane Austen Mystery    by Stephanie Barron order for
Jane and the Canterbury Tale
by Stephanie Barron
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2011 (2011)
Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Jane and the Canterbury Tale is the eleventh Jane Austen mystery by Stephanie Barron, which must mean that lots of people enjoy reading them. This one is set in 1813 at the home of Jane Austen's brother, Edward Knight. He was adopted by wealthy relatives and changed his name from Austen to Knight when his adoptive parents died. The main characters (Jane, Edward, Edward' daughter Fanny, and certain others) are based on real people; however the murder and mystery are, of course, entirely fictional.

A body has been found shot to death on Edward's property, and at first it is believed that a hunting party of Jane's nephews and their friends is responsible. Jane goes to the scene of the crime, and concludes that the person had been shot at close range some hours before the arrival of the hunting party. As the case develops, the dead person is discovered to be the former husband of a woman who was married the previous day in the neighborhood. He was not a nice man, and no one is terribly distressed by his death, but Edward, as the Magistrate for the area, must bring the murderer to justice. Since the primary suspects are well-liked neighbors or close associates of those neighbors, Edward has a difficult and depressing job on his hands, and he values Jane's assistance in solving the crime.

I enjoy reading the novels written by Jane Austen and have also read the letters she wrote, as well as several books about her life. Now that there have been annotated versions published of three of her novels, I have re-read those books with even more enjoyment than previously. Her sense of humor comes across in a delightful way, even though her writing style seems somewhat stilted compared to today's.

Because I'm up-to-date on Austen scholarship, it bothered me to see her depicted as a sad old maid, who wrote furtively. And the thought of the real Jane Austen taking any part in solving a mystery involving a person who had been shot to death is too far fetched for me to be able to imagine. In order to read this novel, therefore, I had to disassociate myself from Jane Austen entirely and pretend that it was just a coincidence that the name was the same as that of my favorite author. I thought the mystery was okay for that time period, and I was able to enjoy it after making that disassociation. The book reminded me somewhat of Agatha Christie mysteries, although I had a pretty good idea of who dun it by the end, and I was never that good at solving Christie's mysteries.

There's much less humor in this book than in Austen's novels or even her letters, and the writing style, meant to be similar to hers, seems more stilted. I admire the scholarship that went into writing this series, the attempts to make the people as much like the actual historical figures as possible, and the footnotes in this book regarding several of the characters who actually lived then. Those readers who have enjoyed the other ten Jane Austen mysteries written by Barron should also like this one. There is also the happy possibility that books in this series might interest younger readers enough to lead them to the real novels of Jane Austen.

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