cover image Jane and the Man of the Cloth

Jane and the Man of the Cloth

Stephanie Barron. Bantam, $21.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-553-10203-1

Nearly as wry as Jane Austen herself, Barron delivers pleasure and amusement in her second delicious Jane Austen mystery (Jane and the Unpleasantness of Scargave Manor, 1996). While headed to Lyme Regis for a seaside holiday in 1804, the Austen carriage overturns and Jane's sister Cassandra is injured. The family finds shelter at High Down Grange, home of sardonic Geoffrey Sidmouth and his beautiful cousin Seraphine LeFevre. The narrative is structured as a journal in which Barron's Jane notes her distress at finding herself attracted to the sensuous Sidmouth. The Austens' trip is historically accurate but sparsely enough documented to allow Barron great latitude in creating a tale that makes the most of the period when the Napoleonic Wars raged and the coast was rife with smugglers. At the local Assembly dance, Jane gathers gossip from the Crawfords, Barnewalls, Lucy Armstrong and Captain Percival Fielding, an injured naval officer, who hints that Sidmouth is the ""Reverend,"" a notorious smuggler. When Fielding is murdered and Sidmouth arrested, a customs agent asks Jane to conduct an undercover investigation. She eagerly agrees. With indefatigable daring and intelligence, Jane discovers the true natures of her new acquaintances and the meaning of heroism. While Austen denied that her characters were based on real people, Barron cleverly turns to characters from Austen novels as models for her own: Mrs. Bennet for Mrs. Austen, Willoughby for Sidmouth, Elizabeth's relationship with Darcy for Jane's with Sidmouth. Worthy of its origins, this book is a delight. (Jan.)