Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas
by Stephanie Barron
Cover Artist: Design: Amy King
Review by Gayle Surrette
Soho Crime Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616954239
Date: 28 October 2014 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
It's the Christmas season, 1814, and Jane, her mother, and sister are to spend the holidays with her brother, James, and his wife, Mary, at Steventon Parsonage. They are to travel post and will be met by a driver sent by James to take them the rest of the way to the parsonage. But when they leave the post, it is snowing heavily, and James has sent a driver with an open cart, and with no lanterns to light their way and warn others on the road.
Freezing and wet in the cart in a storm with low visibility, they are run into by another carriage. Mr. Raphael West offers them his carriage and driver to take them to the parsonage. He'll go on to The Vine on horseback. Arriving at the parsonage, they find smoldering fires, a lack of lit candles, and no food. James is out and Mary is too depressed and self-absorbed to even pay attention to their discomfort except to complain that they are insufficiently concerned with her health. Mrs. Austen takes charge and soon there's at least a cold meal and some light.
This sets the stage for them to jump at the chance to spend Christmas at The Vine when a messenger is sent the next morning with an invitation. The Vine, the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Chute, is warm, comforting, and decked out for the holidays.
What's an English country gathering of the gentry without murder and mayhem? There's an unexpected delivery, a possible murder or two, missing documents, and regular Twelfth Night games and entertainments.
Barrow maintains Jane Austen as many of would like her to be -- intelligent, witty, observant, kind, quick witted, and logical. The historical details of the time are carefully shown via the actions, dialogue, and setting descriptions rather than the dreaded info dumps. Since this is essentially a house party mystery, we learn the quirks and character of those who are living at The Vine for the holidays. If it is murder then one of them must be the villain.
Clues abound and just about everyone in the house could be the culprit. Just as Jane is putting together the clues and trying to decide who to trust, the readers can follow and come to their own conclusions.