Thursday, August 13, 2020

“A Jane Austen Encounter” by Donna Fletcher Crow

If you like Jane Austen, and if you like a mystery, then I have a book for you: A Jane Austen Encounter by Donna Fletcher Crow.

Crow is the author of some 50 books, mostly novels about British history. In addition to “The Monastery Murders” series, she has three novels in the Lord Danvers series, A Most Inconvenient Death, Grave Matters, and To Dust You Shall Return. The Elizabeth & Richard series, of which A Jane Austen Encounter is the fourth, features a husband-and-wife team who teach university English. Crow is an American (she lives in Idaho), but she knows her English literature. And she’s a life member of The Jane Austen Society. 

And her knowledge of Jane Austen’s life and books, both published and the unpublished partial manuscripts, saturates this mystery tale. 

Richard and Elizabeth Spenser are on something of a second honeymoon. Richard has taken a sabbatical from his university teaching; Elizabeth is officially a professor emeritus, which means partially retired and teaching only occasional classes. They have come to Bath in England to begin a tour of Jane Austen country and books, led by a rather dominating and loud British professor named Muriel Greystoke. In addition to the Spensers, the group is comprised of several people associated with Muriel – assistants, drivers, graduate students, her publisher, and even a local newspaper reporter.

Donna Fletcher Crow
Richard is trying to determine an appropriate topic for sabbatical research: Elizabeth is simply enjoying the trip. He helps one assistant find what looks to be a letter written by a relative of Austen’s, and then an assistant is attacked and the letter stolen. The Spensers find themselves being followed by a man who claims to be a reporter but clearly isn’t. Elizabeth’s purse is stolen. And then Muriel slips in a fall and is later found dead under a collapsed weighty bookcase. It looks like an accident, but it might be murder.

The mystery develops side by side with rather detailed descriptions of the towns, cities, houses, and fields associated with Jane Austen and her family, from Bath to Winchester and Canterbury. And like any academics who know their stuff, Richard and Elizabeth talk extensively about the Austen books and manuscripts, envisioning places where various characters meet and interact. And, somehow, they still find time to solve the mystery.

It’s all great fun, and Jane Austen fans should find it to be a treat. If you’re not a fan, you will learn a lot about Emma, Persuasion, the other books, the various manuscripts, and the stories of Jane, her parents, and her brothers and sisters.

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