Miss Austen Investigates

Written by Jessica Bull
Review by Jan Middleton

Jane Austen’s world, with its intelligent heroines, romance and issues of propriety, is blended deliciously with murder mystery motifs, resulting in an engaging read. Our heroine is Jane herself, wearing her Miss Marple bonnet and determined to winkle out the truth behind the murder of the mysterious Belgian lace-maker Zoe Renard, bludgeoned to death in the linen cupboard with a warming pan. Whodunnit? Jane’s beloved learning-disabled brother Georgy? Her father’s former pupil Jonathan Harcourt? The odious Sir John? His housekeeper? When Jane swings into spirited action as an amateur sleuth, we are right behind her!

Jessica Bull’s imagined Jane is a blend of her most attractive protagonists: as sharp and energetic as Lizzy; as thoughtful as Eleanor; as mistaken as Emma; as passionate as Marianne and enduring the same inner turmoil as Anne. Members of her real family and events from her own life are presented cleverly and plausibly in this well-plotted and satisfying novel. The exploration of Jane’s love for Tom Lefroy and the future she imagines as his wife is touching. Thwarted by economic truths, her distress is palpable; her courage laudable. Through Jane’s eyes we are offered an acerbic assessment of a woman’s lot in 1790s society, from servants to heiresses; from glamorous widows to secret brides. Jessica Bull captures the minutiae of their lives in sparkling prose and lively dialogue.

The love in the Austen family is heart-warming, and Jane’s determination to save her most vulnerable brother Georgy from transportation or, worse still, the hangman’s rope, reminds us of the cruelty of the age. You can smell the beeswax candles and feel the mud dragging on hems and boots as Jane dances, walks and finally rides her way to uncovering the truth in Steventon. The real Jane would have loved this novel.