Two novels being published this month feature Jane Austen as a fictional character. Jane Austen and the Twelve Days of Christmas, by Stephanie Barron, is the twelfth book in a mystery series, but this book can be enjoyed without reading the other titles. Jane, her sister Cassandra, and other relatives are guests at a house party at The Vyne over the Christmas holidays in 1814. When Jane isn’t socializing, being a dutiful daughter, or penning her novels, she is a witty and observant amateur sleuth. Spirits are high because Napoleon is in exile and the War of 1812 seems to be over. But when a military courier falls from his horse and dies after visiting The Vyne, Jane suspects murder. Fans of Jane Austen novels or historical mysteries will find this book a real treat, and it’s been selected as a Library Reads pick for November.
First Impressions: a Novel of old books, unexpected love, and Jane Austen, by Charlie Lovett is the author’s second book, following The Bookman’s Tale.
Upset by her uncle’s death and the loss of his personal library, recent Oxford graduate Sophie Collingwood takes a job with an antiquarian bookseller who knew her uncle. Within a week two customers ask for the second edition of an obscure book by Richard Mansfield. One threatens her, the other man, Winston, takes her to dinner. In the past, Jane Austen has made a new friend, the elderly cleric Richard Mansfield, who admires her writing. Jane has not yet published anything, and struggles to find time to write. Sophie’s quest for the book turns into a mystery that questions Jane Austen’s authorship of Pride and Prejudice, in a romantic and suspenseful book. I would have liked more scenes with Jane and less of Sophie trying to decide whom to trust, publisher Winston or book-loving American Eric. Both Sophie and Jane rely on their sisters for advice and friendship, which is a nice touch. I enjoyed this book, but it’s not as absorbing and memorable as Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Lock In by John Scalzi
A pandemic has left many people completely paralyzed in this science fiction thriller. Named after the President’s wife, Haden Syndrome patients can interact with the world via humanoid robots known as threeps, online with each other in the Agora space, and occasionally with human Integrators who’ve had a neural net installed. A law cutting government financial support for Haden patients has led to protests and corporate mergers. Chris Shane, a famous Haden patient, is a newly minted FBI agent who is teamed with Leslie Vann, a former Integrator, to work on cases with a possible Haden connection. In their first week together, Shane and Vann handle a series of murders and the bombing of a pharmaceutical plant. Shane proves to be as hard on his robotic threeps as Stephanie Plum is on cars. John Scalzi is a very creative science fiction and fantasy writer, and has been blogging at Whatever for sixteen years. I hope he writes more crime thrillers featuring Shane and Vann.
Promise Me by Harlan Coben
In this long-running mystery series, sports agent Myron Bolitar gets into some pretty dangerous situations, but his preppy friend Win, with his love of martial arts and technology, is usually there to back him up. This is the first book I’ve read by Harlan Coben, who took a six-year break from Myron to write thrillers before writing Promise Me. Overhearing his girlfriend’s daughter and another teen at a party talking about drunk drivers, he promises to give them a ride anytime, no questions asked. Aimee calls him from Manhattan at 2:30 one morning, and then disappears after he drops her off in suburban New Jersey. Myron looks for connections with Katie, another missing teen, as does Katie’s mob-connected father. And of course the police want to know how Myron’s involved. Myron has known Aimee and her family for years, and even wrote her a letter of recommendation to Duke University, where he was a basketball star. Plenty of action and violence, mixed with touching scenes with his widowed girlfriend Ali and his aging parents, make for a fast-paced read. I will probably go back to the beginning of the series and read Deal Breaker.
The Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh
Lord Peter Wimsey, his wife Harriet, and the faithful Bunter return to Oxford in 1952. This is the fourth mystery featuring the trio that Jill Paton Walsh has written or finished writing, continuing the books written by Dorothy L. Sayers. Peter has unfortunately inherited the title of Duke of Denver, and discovers that it includes the office of Visitor of St. Severin’s, a fictional college in Oxford, and is called upon to referee a dispute. St. Severin’s is far from peaceful; the head of the college is missing, and there have been recent deaths (presumably accidental) and other incidents. Oddly the deaths and two accidents echo Peter’s detective cases and Harriet’s mystery novels. The college’s finances are shaky, and there is an ongoing debate about selling a rare manuscript with connections to King Alfred in order to buy land near Oxford that could be developed.
Oxford itself is a character in the book, full of memories for Peter and Harriet, and instantly recognizable to 21st century visitors. While the atmosphere at St. Severin’s is increasingly unpleasant, reading this mystery was a real pleasure.
World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters
The final book in a completely plausible pre-apocalyptic trilogy, World of Trouble finds former detective Hank Palace and his dog racing against time to find his younger sister Nico, encountering a cast of quirky characters. The asteroid Maya will probably hit Earth soon, but Hank keeps following leads from New England to a deserted police station in Ohio on his bike, and finds both hope and one last case to solve after he arrives. Hank is an appealing protagonist, and this book is just as compulsively readable as The Last Policeman (here’s my review of the first book) and Countdown City. World of Trouble will be available in mid-July.
Twisted Vines by Carole Price
Ohio crime analyst Cait Pepper gets a phone call on April 1 that her Aunt Tasha has died and left her a vineyard in Northern California and 2 Shakespearean theaters. Cait’s parents died five years ago, and she’s never heard of her dad’s twin sister. Her life already in transition, Cait takes a leave of absence and flies to San Francisco and finds that her aunt’s death is slightly suspicious and that her uncle died the previous year after being thrown from his favorite horse. Everyone has a secret and acts suspiciously from time to time. Some people want her to stay permanently, others are surprised she’s still at the vineyard after two weeks. The vineyard is only window dressing here, probably more of an element in the next book, Sour Grapes, due out in October. The upcoming Shakespeare festival is a nice setting, as is the house, with an owner’s suite above an office, gift shop and reception rooms. Detective Rook is helpful, temporary stage manager and Navy Seal Royal Tanner is a possible love interest, and young secretary Marcus is sullen and rude.
The series has some promise, but Twisted Vines has some first novel issues that better editing could have helped avoid, such as some phrases and gestures repeated more than once. Suspenseful, with a bit of romance. A good read, especially if you’re looking for a light mystery with an appealing setting.
Blackberry Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke
In the 17th culinary mystery by Joanne Fluke, Hannah Swensen and Lisa, her partner at the Cookie Jar bakery and coffee shop, haven’t had a mystery to solve in four months. While Lake Eden, Minnesota, is a small town, Hannah has a gift (or curse) for finding bodies. Unfortunately, an accident during a thunderstorm leaves an unidentified man dead. The only identifying feature is a diamond on one tooth. Hannah, along with her family and friends, try to identify the man. Hannah wins a large and unexpected prize in a raffle, which fascinates her cat, Moishe. Also, Hannah and her sisters Andrea and Michelle are trying to plan their mother Delores’ wedding to longtime beau Doc, but Delores changes her mind about the menu, flowers, and dresses every couple of days. Along with recipes for blackberry pie, blue apple muffins, and triple chocolate cookies, the reader enjoys another charming visit to Lake Eden. If you like to start at the beginning of the series, look for Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, but I think you can start with any of her books. Each book has several recipes, and there is also a companion cookbook, Joanne Fluke’s Lake Eden Cookbook. Enjoy!