Jane and the Genius of the Place:
Being the Fourth Jane Austen Mystery
by Stephanie Barron

Mass Market Paperback - 400 pages (February 1, 2000) 
Bantam Books; ISBN: 0553578391 

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Paperback - 310 pages ( 2 December, 1999) 
Headline; ISBN: 0747261431

        Review by Carl W. Goss, April 3, 1999
The place Ms Barron writes of is Kent and the time is midsummer of 1805.

As it happens Jane Austen is in Kent; enjoying summer at Godmersham with her brothers Henry and Edward, along with Edward’s large family.  Just across the channel, however, Bonaparte is preparing an army to invade England, with Kent the focus of his landing force.

Already ill at ease because of the endless troop movements through the neighborhood and the countless rumors of invasion, Jane finds her summer in Kent disrupted in a much more serious way.  During a family visit to the Canterbury races, where one of Henry’s horses is running, a woman is found dead.

The deceased turns out to be a Mrs Grey, a lady of some note, (and notoriety).  And she has been murdered—strangled to death with a length of ribbon from her own gown.  She is found in an enclosed chaise, not far from the Austen family’s equipage.  Elizabeth Austen is horrified and wants to leave the race grounds immediately.  But Edward, justice of the peace for the local area takes charge of the situation and becomes determined to bring the killer to justice.  But even with the assistance of Aunt Jane it proves no easy task.   Things are not what they seem that summer of ‘05 on the Kentish coast.  And Mrs Grey’s murder turns out not to be the crime of passion everyone in town thinks.

After some investigation this crime is soon found to be much more than a simple crime of passion. Indeed the safety of England may be at stake.

It is clear to the Austens-- Edward, Henry and especially to Jane, that Mrs Grey’s death is connected to the preparations for war from the continent.  It also is clear that Bonaparte’s invasion at Kent cannot succeed without (1) money and (2) information.  Mrs Grey was French and connected with a powerful French banking family.  She was intimate with many of the powerful men of the district including high-ranking military officers.  So, she was in a position to supply both items to the French.  Thus, what started out as an apparent crime of passion becomes instead a complex tale of international intrigue.  Thus the game is afoot.

As a fun read, Ms Barron’s latest effort launches well, but bogs down a little later, picks up around the middle, then proceeds to a satisfactory end where many of the story’s threads are tied together, but in a not quite satisfactory manner.

The factual and the fictional are well interlaced throughout the novel.  Ms Barron introduces us to Fanny Austen as well as to Elizabeth Austen, Edward’s wife.  Henry makes his appearance as a man addicted to horseflesh.  And of course the enigmatic Sir Harold Trowbridge makes his appearance however indirectly, as an agent of the Pitt government. Readers will remember Sir Harold from Ms Barron’s novel, Jane and the Man of the Cloth.

As usual Ms Barron while providing the Austen community with a fine read, gives the us some very interesting insights into little known facts of Regency life concerning banking, horse racing, and something called “estate improvement,” perfected at the time by men like Capability Brown.

I recommend everyone give the novel a whirl.


        Review by Linda Waldemar, April 6, 2003

I found this book to be a very pleasant read. The language seems good to me. The mystery is okay. The characters are fine. If my praise seems a bit lukewarm, it is because thsi book is very similar to the three before it that I have read. There is little left to say.

Do I recommend it? Sure, it is enjoyable.


        Written by Virginia (3/1/2006 4:32 p.m.)
They aren't exactly sequels, but my favorite modern JA fiction books are the Stephanie Barron Jane Austen mysteries. She's good with the language and the stories are fun. She also follows Jane's life closely -- she used her letters as source material. You learn quite a bit about Jane's family -- I am currently rereading Jane and the genius of the place -- Jane is staying with her brother Edward and his wife Elizabeth.