Posts Tagged ‘Austenesque murder mystery’

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Inquiring readers:

Jane Austen’s World blog is participating in a tour of Stephanie Barron’s new book, Jane and the Waterloo Map, wherein our favorite author turns sleuth in this Regency-era mystery. I have interviewed Stephanie Barron, author of this delightful mystery, and wished I had asked more questions!

book coverIt is November, 1815. The Battle of Waterloo has come and gone, leaving the British economy in shreds; Henry Austen, high-flying banker, is about to declare bankruptcy—dragging several of his brothers down with him. The crisis destroys Henry’s health, and Jane flies to his London bedside, believing him to be dying. While she’s there, the chaplain to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent invites Jane to tour Carlton House, the Prince’s fabulous London home. The chaplain is a fan of Jane’s books, and during the tour he suggests she dedicate her next novel—Emma—to HRH, whom she despises.

However, before she can speak to HRH, Jane stumbles upon a body—sprawled on the carpet in the Regent’s library. The dying man, Colonel MacFarland, was a cavalry hero and a friend of Wellington’s. He utters a single failing phrase: “Waterloo map” . . . and Jane is on the hunt for a treasure of incalculable value and a killer of considerable cunning…

1. Vic: Hi Stephanie, Thank you for allowing me to interview you! I have so many questions, but a limited time to talk to you. Please describe your book and tell us why readers will be intrigued with your latest mystery.

Stephanie: The thirteenth Jane Austen mystery combines a well-documented period in her life—the autumn of 1815, when she was staying with her ailing brother Henry in London and preparing Emma for publication—with the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo in English politics and society. That November, Jane was invited to the Prince Regent’s London home, Carlton House, and asked (ordered) to dedicate Emma to the Prince. I have her stumbling over the body of a Waterloo veteran in the Carlton House library, so I think the story gets off to a great start.

2. Vic: My Janeite group loves your novels and have read your books since JANE AUSTEN AND THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT SCARGRAVE MANOR.  How did you originally come up with the idea of a Jane Austen mystery series?

Stephanie: I had studied the Napoleonic/Regency period in college, and was a lifelong reader of Austen—I began with Pride and Prejudice at age 12—but I had never thought of writing what is now called “Austenesque” fiction. At the time I wrote the first Jane mystery, I was also writing a contemporary police procedural series set on Nantucket Island under my married name, Francine Mathews. This was twenty-two years ago, during the winter of 1994. I was rereading Austen’s novels and reflecting on the richness of her language, and how difficult it was to persuade some readers to wrestle with the complexity of that language in order to experience the story. I thought it would be challenging and fun to attempt to use Austen’s distinct voice in a novel, and encourage contemporary readers to engage its complexity—by giving them a murder to solve. From that moment, I had to decide for myself if I wanted to go whole-Austen-hog and use her actual characters. But I personally think that each of us has an inner sense of her characters that we may not always like to see violated by another person’s version. So I decided instead to use Jane herself as my detective. I went to her letters, first and foremost, for a detailed record of her days—and was delighted to find that there were gaps in that record I could fill with fiction.

3. Were you surprised at how receptive readers were with the idea of Jane Austen as sleuth?

Stephanie: Yes. I was honestly afraid that the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor would be dismissed or ridiculed as either a travesty of her style or an attempt at exploitation. It was a relief when the book was generally embraced. Although I should say that I did receive a few incensed and irate letters. There will always be folks who lack a sense of humor.

4. Vic: What did you enjoy most in doing research for JANE AND THE WATERLOO MAP?

I have a deep and abiding interest in the Napoleonic Wars, dating from my first exposure to War and Peace when I was ten years old. To be able to wallow in accounts of the battle of Waterloo was quite self-indulgent. I also loved studying the old prints of Carlton House, which appears to have been an elegant and beautifully-designed place, sadly demolished only a few years after Jane saw it.

5. Vic: Tell us a little about your writing day. Are you a disciplined author or do you need to be inspired, by a deadline, for example, or a great idea?

Stephanie: I am a highly disciplined writer. It’s impossible to draft, complete, and promote twenty-six novels over twenty-three years without being disciplined, particularly if one is also raising children and dogs. I alternate work on the Jane Austen series with standalone historical espionage novels that require a totally different degree of research and construction. I frankly tell aspiring writers, however, that it is much easier to be disciplined when you have a contract from a publisher—because then the work is no longer a wistful dream, but your job, with expectations you must meet and editors you regard as your employers. I know that I have been profoundly fortunate to be able to work at home for the past two decades, on my own schedule, pursuing my cherished impulses and ideas, and yet be paid for my work.

6. Vic: Which Jane Austen novel is your favorite and why?

PersuasionStephanie: Persuasion. I regard it as the apogee of her work. Anne Elliott is the most perceptive and profound of her heroines. It’s one of the first novels in the English cannon in which a period of depression is portrayed, as well the emergence from depression and into full engagement with life—which occurs in parallel to Anne’s reviving romance with Wentworth, not as a direct result of it. It is also the most perfectly edited of Austen’s works, probably because she had grown in technique as a writer by the time she embarked on it—she was self-editing as she wrote, and the finished work is tightly plotted and beautifully honed, not a word wasted.

7. Vic: Would you like to add anything else for my readers?

Stephanie: Only that I’d love to hear from them. I can be found on the web, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

8. Vic: It’s a pleasure to chat with you, Stephanie.  I must admit that PERSUASION is also my favorite Jane Austen novel (a preference I discovered in my, ahem, mature years). My sentimental favorite shall always be PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. You were twelve when you first read the book; I was fourteen. Sigh. Good luck with JANE AND THE WATERLOO MAP, and thank you so much for these illuminating answers.
Stephanie: The pleasure was all mine!

Inquiring readers:

Click on this link to follow the blog tour from February 2, 2016 – February 22, 2016.

barronAbout the Author:

Stephanie Barron was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written fifteen books. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Learn more about Stephanie and her books at her website, visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.

Stephanie’s Twitter handles are: @SBarronAuthor; @Soho_Press.  Her Twitter hashtags are: #WaterlooBlogTour, #JaneAusten, #HistoricalMystery, #RegencyMystery, #Reading, #AustenesqueMystery #Austenesque #Giveaway

Grand Giveaway Contest


Win One of Three Fabulous Prizes:

In celebration of the release of Jane and the Waterloo Map, Stephanie is offering a chance to win one of three prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on Jane and the Waterloo Map Blog Tour starting February 02, 2016 through 11:59 pm PT, February 29, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Stephanie’s website on March 3, 2016. Winners have until March 10, 2016 to claim their prize. Shipment is to US addresses. Good luck to all!


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Murder on the Bride’s Side is Tracy Kiely’s second murder mystery. I thought her debut novel, Murder at Longbourn, quite charming. Although it was set in modern times, the tie ins to Jane Austen were detailed enough to be satisfying. (In the first book, Aunt Winnie was the proprietor of the Inn at Longbourn, the heroine Elizabeth Parker turned to reading Pride and Prejudice in times of stress, a cat named Lady Catherine prowled the premises, and two friends named Bridget and Colin joined a band of murder suspects for the New Year’s festivities.)

Murder on the Bride’s Side begins where Murder at Longbourn left off. Elizabeth Parker, the heroine who helped to solve the first murder, thereby saving her aunt from being falsely accused, is a fact checker for a local Virginia paper. This explains her eye for details. As the novel opens, guests are assembling to attend Bridget and Colin’s wedding in Richmond, Virginia. Elizabeth and Peter McGowan are now an item, which must have made Aunt Winnie deliriously happy, for she practically forced Peter’s company onto Elizabeth in Murder at Longbourn.

During her spare time Elizabeth reads Sense and Sensibility, which is quoted quite often at the start of this mystery. These quotes provide a tentative connection to Jane Austen, for, unlike Tracy Kiely’s first novel, the plot of this book has not been so neatly constructed around Jane’s oeuvre, and Tracy stops quoting Sense and Sensibility early on. She quotes other books as well, each one introducing a new chapter, setting up the theme.

As guests arrive for the wedding and assemble for the rehearsal dinner and reception, the reader is introduced to each murder suspect. The victim, Roni, is a suitably nasty individual whose treatment of her husband, Avery, her daughter, Megan, and the world in general is such that murdering her was quite a sensible solution.

Bridget and Colin are married and then the fun happens. As with Tracy Kiely’s first novel, the murder and its denouement are incidental to the development of the characters and their relationship to each other. Kiely’s writing style is breezy and effortless, and she has constructed a tight and entertaining mystery that leads to a satisfying conclusion. This time around the murder is not so easily solved, for she offers a side trail that a careless reader who has missed some important clues might follow.

And now we come to the tricky part of this review, for I truly enjoyed this novel. I live in Richmond, Virginia and was delighted to learn that the novel was set in my city. But the city that Tracy, a Maryland resident describes, is not one that I know. Basic mistakes were made. While going to The Tobacco Company in Shockoe Slip, Tracy has her guests park in a garage near Capitol Hill and then walk several long city blocks to the restaurant. With so many parking garages closer to this dining establishment, why would anyone want to walk through such a featureless, uninteresting part of town? The Governor’s mansion and Virginia state capitol building are not easily seen from the street and the traffic is ghastly. The cobble stone streets of East Cary Street with its trendy boutique shops, restaurants, and bars would have made a much more picturesque backdrop. Plus Tracy describes this slightly touristy, trendy-in-the-1980’s restaurant in detail, while barely mentioning the magnificent interior of the world class, historic register Jefferson Hotel several chapters later.

In this book, Tracy often arranges for people to meet “downtown”. Well, downtown Richmond is a wasteland of office buildings, banks, vacant lots, and parking garages. Major thoroughfares crisscross streets, making it hard for pedestrians to navigate towards the river, for example. The few restaurants that are making it in the financial district tend to be open only for breakfast and lunch. For entertainment and dining, Richmonders say they will meet in a specific section of town: The Fan, Cary Town, the Museum District, Church Hill, the Canal Walk, Belle Isle, Shockoe Slip, Shockoe Bottom, Libby and Grove, or the near or far West End. I am being picky, I know, but not once did I get the sense that Tracy’s characters were living and breathing in my city.

Perhaps I quibble too much, for this reviewer from The Richmond Times Dispatch was quite delighted with the book.

I give Murder on the Bride’s Side two out of three Regency fans. Will I read another Elizabeth Parker murder mystery when Tracy Kiely writes her third book? Why, yes, of course. I want to follow Peter and Elizabeth as they deepen their romance against a backdrop of murder most foul. Just not in Richmond.

More on the topic:

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Murder at LongbournGentle Reader, Tracy Kiely’s first book, Murder at Longbourn, is set to be released tomorrow, September 1st. I had the pleasure of interviewing Tracy, who was kind enough to provide these fascinating insights in response to my questions. Her murder mystery is a rollicking fun read in the style of a modern Agatha Christie with Austenesque overtones. I think that Tracy summarizes her book best on her website:

If you are a fan of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and love classic English mysteries, then you just might enjoy Murder at Longbourn. Set in a picturesque Cape Cod B&B on New Year’s Eve, the story follows Elizabeth Parker, a young woman on the mend from a bad breakup. Instead of a peaceful retreat, she finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation and in the company of the nemesis of her youth, Peter McGowan – a man she suspects has matured in chronological years only. As she investigates her fellow guests, some bearing more than a striking resemblance to characters in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth fights to keep her inner poise while she hunts down a killer who keeps killing.

1) Hi Tracy, thank you for agreeing to chat with me. I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying reading your book. Murder at Longbourn, while echoing Jane Austen (and I suspect the cottage industry that has grown up around it) is refreshingly not an Austen sequel, but an original story with Austenesque overtones. How did you conceive of the plot? Can you share with the reader one of your “inside” Jane Austen references? I simply laughed out loud as I encountered them.

The plot for Murder at Longbourn, is something of a mishmash of my favorite forms of entertainment. I grew up reading Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, and watching Alfred Hitchcock movies (I am something of an Anglophile, much to the consternation of my Irish Catholic family). I love the twisty, deviously clever plots of Christie, the sublime wit of Austen, and the “average man caught in extraordinary circumstances” themes of Hitchcock. When I began to think of writing my own mystery, I realized it would have to have those elements. Then one day I was watching the news and – I kid you not – there was a story about a woman who killed her husband at a B&B after they attended a Host-A-Murder Dinner. I was off to the races! However, while there are many references to Pride and Prejudice throughout the book, I didn’t want it to be a retelling of Austen’s classic. Instead, it’s a gentle wink at the reader who is familiar with Pride and Prejudice, but one doesn’t necessarily need to be a fan to “get” the book. That said, I had such fun weaving in the Austenesque aspects. I think my favorites are Henry Anderson’s pride in securing a rare first edition of Fordyce’s Sermons for his client and the ill-mannered white Persian cat, aptly named Lady Catherine.

2) This is your debut novel in print. Due to the maturity of your writing style, I suspect this is not your very first attempt at writing. How long have you been writing? How many first attempts lie upon dusty shelves? And has your work been published in other forms before, such as a magazine?

I have wanted to be a mystery writer since I was a kid. I did briefly entertain a dream of being a cartoonist for The New Yorker but even the early cave dwellers would have rejected my sketches. Several years ago, I wrote a mystery titled An Ostentation of Peacocks. It never really went anywhere (a fact I refuse to attribute to its title) and I put it aside. But it was a bit like taking a SAT prep class; you get an idea of what you’re in for. When I felt ready to write again, I decided to start fresh. However, I was able to use some of the research I did for Ostentation in Murder on the Bride’s Side (the second in the series).

3) The book is funny at times. It is so nice to read an Austenesque novel that echoes Jane Austen’s wit. When did you become a Jane Austen fan, and would you describe yourself as an acerbic wit in real life?

I became a fan of Jane Austen in high school when I first picked up Pride and Prejudice and one of the many aspects of it that I loved was the wit. I would categorize my humor as “acerbicous tardious” which, I believe, is the Latin for thinking of zingers ten minutes too late. I think the French have a term for it too, but I prefer the Latin because it is a dead language and no one can make fun of my pronunciation. However, the beauty of writing is that my characters don’t need to respond in real time.

4) I did you a disservice by calling your book Austenesque, for it is a stand alone novel that even non-Jane Austen fans will like. What are your plans for a second novel? Will it be another mystery?

If calling my book Austenesque is a disservice, then hit me again, dear sir! Luckily, St. Martin’s signed me for the first two in the series. The second, Murder on the Bride’s Side, is due out September 2010 and continues Elizabeth’s sleuthing adventures. My goal for each book is to parallel a different work of Austen’s. The first, obviously, was Pride and Prejudice. The second weaves in elements of Sense and Sensibility. Should the gods smile on me, I will be asked for the third, which is tentatively titled Spirit of Murder and parallels Northanger Abbey. In it certain events occur while Elizabeth is staying in a historic house on Nantucket, which lead her to wonder if her imagination is getting the best of her due to a recent re-reading of The Mysteries of Udolpho or if there is a more sinister explanation.

5) Tell us a little about yourself and your family. How do you fit writing into your schedule when you are raising three children who, I presume, are young?

My husband and I have three kids aged 13, 9 and 6. Throw in a puppy, an uppity cat, and a few fish and there’s precious little time for sanity, let alone a set writing schedule. So I do it when I can: while the kids are brushing their teeth, while the dog is chasing the cat through the dining room, while my youngest is painting his room with crayon. For me, writing is something I can’t not do. Jasper Fforde put it best when he said “Writers write because they can’t stop. They scribble notes in books, write poetry, jot down good snippets of dialogue and generally exist in their own little world.”

Thank you for your wonderful insights, Tracy. I wish you the best of luck as your book hits the stores. You can read my review at this link.  Readers may order copies here,  and enter Tracy’s website at this link.

Tracy KielyAbout the Author: Tracy Kiely graduated from Trinity College in 1990 with a degree in English. This accomplishment, however, merely seemed to prompt most job interviewers to ask “how fast can you type?” Her standard answer of “not so fast” usually put an end to futher questions.

She was eventually hired by the American Urological Association (AUA), who were kind enough to overlook the whole typing thing, mainly because they knew just what kind of stuff she’d be typing. Beggars can’t be choosers, you know. After several years, Tracy left the AUA taking with her a trove of anecdotal stories that would eventually result in her banishment from polite society.

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