The Jane Austen Centre declared today Jane Austen Day in recognition of the anniversary of her birth in 1775. Austenites worldwide are making plans to celebrate their beloved author in all manner of festivities, including teas, costume balls and social media events. Indeed the day has its own Facebook page! Austen’s enduring appeal is evident in the legion of literary spin-offs and retellings published every year. Two new entries in the field will interest the Austen Army as well as readers of historical fiction, mystery and romance.
If you liked P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley which was recently adapted as a two-part series on Masterpiece Theater, then Stephanie Baron’s Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas is for you. The 12th installment in this popular series takes place during the Christmas season of 1814. Jane and her family are dining at The Vyne, the wealthy Chute family’s ancestral home. When one of the guests is killed in an accident, the mood dampens. Almost immediately Jane suspects something sinister is afoot and that a killer is at large. Baron’s attention to detail is impeccable, the mystery is well-crafted and devotees will savor the biographical tidbits sprinkled throughout.
Syrie James invites readers to get to know the teenage Jane in Jane Austen’s First Love, a novel, the author explains in her afterword, was inspired by actual events. It’s 1791, Jane is 15 and she dreams of falling desperately in love. Edward is 17, heir to an estate and handsome beyond belief. They live in two different worlds but continue to spend time together. Jane can’t stop thinking about him or the fact that he seems interested in her too. But there is a rival for his affection. When Jane starts matchmaking with three other potential couples, things go disastrously. This charming story’s appeal extends beyond Austen fans to romance readers and those who enjoy compelling coming-of-age stories.
In Jane Smiley's Some Luck, on a farm in Denby, Iowa, Rosanna and Walter Langdon begin their married lives in 1920 in the time-honored tradition of past generations. Walter ponders fertile fields and chooses good bottom land for his farm. Rosanna becomes the consummate farmer’s wife and produces five children, all with vastly different personalities: Frank, brilliant but fiercely independent; Joe, whose gentle spirit and love of the land make him the heir apparent to the farm; Lillian, the beautiful but innocent angel; Mary Elizabeth, destined to fate; Clare, her father’s favorite; and Henry, always thirsting for knowledge.
Spanning three generations, covering the coming of age of America, Some Luck is the latest offering from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Smiley. Smiley deftly weaves historical events throughout her narrative, painting a portrait of one family as it endures the Great Depression, drought, social unrest and burgeoning communism, through World War II and its aftermath. With a sure hand, Smiley portrays each of these events as they affect farmers and laborers, town and city, America and the world. Whether on the farm or in a war, everyone must endure the hardship and the vagaries of life and fate. As Grandma observes, “But what would we do without some luck?” Smiley also subtly reminds us of the importance of family and friends, as they support each other through trying times and happy moments. As Walter and Rosanna survey their family at a Thanksgiving feast, they realize all they have achieved and conquered and that, by forming this family, they have created 23 unique stories that will resonate through succeeding generations.
Some Luck is the first installment in a trilogy. Once you have laughed and cried and shared all their stories, you will be anxiously awaiting the next installment.
In Dear Daughter, Janie Jenkins has the kind of life teenage girls like to read about in fan magazines. She’s famous for the parties she’s attended, the high-profile celebrities she’s gotten high with and the fabulous clothes she wears. Paris Hilton wishes she were Janie Jenkins. Until 16-year-old Janie sneaks into her mother’s closet, climbs into her mother’s best fashion boots and overhears a passionate argument. The next thing Janie remembers, she is covered with her mother’s blood and trying to explain this to the police.
Janie is known among her set as the girl most likely to steal your boyfriend. She may be popular in the press, but not among her peers. She is devious and her number one priority is herself. This may not be evidence of murder, but it sure gets you biased witnesses and an unsympathetic jury. Convicted of her mother’s murder, Janie spends 10 years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Or, did she?
Released on a technicality, Janie follows clues she’s uncovered in the prison library databases. Pursued by the vulture press and obsessed bloggers who want her to pay for her evil act, Janie assumes the identity of a nerdy historian. In her new guise, she probes the past of the tiny gold-rush town her mother grew up in, proving that even the tiniest towns can hold deadly secrets.
Elizabeth Little’s debut thriller Dear Daughter brings a completely fresh perspective to the mystery scene. Her character exhibits the raw emotion of a traumatized teenager. Instead of compassion and therapy, she receives condemnation and punishment. Isolated and alone, Janie must battle her own demons in order to unearth the truth, no matter how horrific. Fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and William Landay’s Defending Jacob will appreciate the fast pace and moral conundrums. Climb into your favorite easy chair, you are about to pull an all-nighter.
Historic St. Pancras Station dwells at the heart of the latest Deborah Crombie British police procedural, To Dwell in Darkness.
During the International Festivities at St. Pancras, the protest group Save London’s History hopes to gain a little notoriety. Despite careful planning, the intended detonation of a harmless smoke bomb sparks a conflagration from a phosphorous grenade. Superintendent Duncan Kincaid will be hard pressed to identify the perpetrator, much less discover who wanted him dead. After eliminating the possibility of terrorism, Kincaid concentrates on the members of the protest group, who have organized to prevent the destruction of various historical sites.
Unfortunately, Kincaid has more on his mind than the investigation. His former superior at Scotland Yard has left the country under uncertain circumstances, and Kincaid is transferred to the London borough of Camden. While he doesn’t lose rank, it’s definitely a demotion from leading an elite murder squad at Scotland Yard. Kincaid is also left wondering if the recent promotion of his wife Gemma James is a palliative to prevent his protest. Then Kincaid discovers just how vulnerable his family can be.
Simultaneously, Inspector Gemma James is investigating electronics shop clerk Dillon Underwood for kidnapping, raping and murdering 12-year-old Mercy Johnson. Determined to build a case, Gemma is thwarted by the serial stalker, who clearly knows how to avoid leaving evidence.
Deborah Crombie is a master at weaving the intricate details of an investigation with the family life built by Duncan and Gemma. Well-drawn, solid characters bring authenticity and honesty to her work. Crombie based one of the characters on actual events involving an undercover agent who was betrayed by his fellow officers. Historical details of the train station pepper the narrative, but don’t overwhelm. For anyone who appreciates a literary mystery, Deborah Crombie is sure to please readers of Louise Penney, Elizabeth George and Peter Robinson.
What happens after happily ever after? Mystery author P. D. James reimagines the futures of the characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in Death Comes to Pemberley. Six years after Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage, a shocking event rocks the residents of Pemberley. On the night before their annual ball, Elizabeth’s sister Lydia appears at Pemberley hysterically screaming that Mr. Wickham has been murdered. Upon investigation, it is actually Captain Denny who is dead, but in an even more shocking turn of events, the most logical suspect is none other than Wickham! Austen fans are well-acquainted with Wickham’s past misdeeds, but could he really be capable of murder?
Death Comes to Pemberley is a well-crafted mystery written in a tone similar to Austen’s own, making this a perfect companion to the classic novel. The audiobook read by Rosalyn Landor will whisk you away to the 19th century. James seeds the story with plausible suspects and a few red herrings, but in the end all questions are answered and readers are given a glimpse into the Darcys’ future.
The novel has been adapted into a miniseries that will soon air on PBS. The miniseries will begin on October 26 and will be released on DVD later that week.
Truth is stranger than fiction, and Adrian McKinty’s latest novel The Sun Is God is based on a true mystery surrounding the German nudists known as Cocovores. It is 1906 in Colonial New Guinea and the body of Max Lutzow, who has apparently died of malaria, has been transported to the capital city. An autopsy proves otherwise and the suspicious circumstances of the death have to be investigated. Max was a member of the Cocovores, an extreme group of nudists who worship the sun god Apollo and eat only things that grow from the tops of trees. Will Prior had previously worked for the British military during the Boer War, and seems perfectly suited to solve this unusual crime. Paired with a captain of the German army and a feisty female travel writer, Will heads to the isle of Kabakon to solve the murder.
McKinty is a thoughtful writer and skilled at crafting a really good tale. The characters are solid and he spends enough time fleshing out Will Prior’s background and current circumstances to make him an interesting protagonist. The unusual setting is described in perfect detail and the book will have many a reader peering around for a stray mosquito. The book becomes all the more fascinating when reading the afterword, where the reader discovers that the Cocovores were an actual documented group of people living this lifestyle just after the turn of the century. Although this novel is meant to be a stand-alone, readers who enjoy McKinty’s style may want to pick up his novels featuring Detective Sean Duffy. The first in the Duffy series is called The Cold Cold Ground.
The lives of teenage girls are filled with intense rivalries, frantic friendships, evolving cliques and lots and lots of secrets. Those secrets provide the backdrop for Tana French’s latest psychological thriller The Secret Place. The headmistress of St. Kilda’s School has created the Secret Place – a bulletin board where the girls can indulge their fantasies, spread their rumors, and engage in a little malicious backstabbing. One day, a card is posted with the picture of Chris Harper, a handsome student boarding at a nearby boys school who was bludgeoned to death the previous year, with the caption “I know who killed him.” Sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey, a student at St. Kilda’s and the daughter of the chief of the Dublin Murder Squad, brings the card to ambitious Detective Stephen Moran, who’d like nothing better than a ticket out of the Cold Case Unit and into the prestigious Murder Squad.
The action takes place over the period of one day, with multiple interviews conducted by Moran and Murder Squad Detective Antoinette Conway, a prickly sort, sensitive to any sexist injustice. Moran and Conway slowly learn to trust one another, honing their interview skills as they slide ever deeper into a world of power games and manipulation, jealousy and rivalries. While desperately trying to solve the case, Holly’s father is ever-present, interfering in his position as Conway and Moran’s boss. Then there is the hovering spirit of the victim, who considered his girlfriends to be throwaway commodities, to be dumped upon any indication of neediness. But perhaps he truly found the one he loved, only to find that someone else objected.
Tana French is a master of psychological suspense and has once again produced a riveting page-turner. The teenage girls are authentic and raw; their complex relationships are navigated with a sure hand. The techniques used by the detectives to discover the truth are as varied as the labyrinth of lies and misdirection. Other titles by this Edgar, Anthony and Macavity Award-winning author include In the Woods, Broken Harbor, The Likeness and Faithful Place. Fans of John Verdon, Denise Mina and Stephen Booth are sure to find a deeply satisfying read.
Oliver Harris’ ne’er do well detective Nick Belsey is in trouble again in the novel Deep Shelter. A random encounter with a speeding perpetrator leads Nick to an abandoned bomb shelter. Finding some crates of champagne as well as some heavy duty medically prescribed drugs, Nick thinks this might be the perfect party spot to take a female companion. When he does just this, the lights are extinguished and Nick’s date is kidnapped, apparently dragged away into a warren of tunnels that could go anywhere. Nick soon finds himself in the uncomfortable position of prime suspect and quite possibly in the middle of an extensive government cover-up that leads back as far as the Cold War. With little help and almost no resources, Nick races against the clock to try and recover the woman he lost.
Nick Belsey was introduced in Harris’ previous novel, Hollow Man. He is a likable character and a good investigator, albeit one that makes very bad decisions. Harris handles the element of suspense well, and Deep Shelter starts quickly and moves at a fast pace. The setting is also amazing and Nick travels from the busy streets of London to mysterious locations deep underground, hoping to find a discarded clue that might lead him in the right direction. The writing is solid; Harris has degrees in creative writing as well as English and Shakespeare studies, so readers who enjoy good descriptions and a sharp writing style will not be disappointed. Readers who enjoy this novel may want to try Stuart MacBride or Mark Billingham.
Erin Kelly’s Broadchurch invites readers to travel to the quiet British seaside town of the same name where we meet Detective Ellie Miller, fresh off a rejuvenating vacation and excited to return to work where a promotion awaits. She’s not back long before learning that her coveted position went to outsider Alec Hardy, an interloper with a checkered professional past. Simultaneously, readers are introduced to Beth Latimer, a typical mom and friend of Ellie’s, who is slowly reaching the gut-wrenching conclusion that her son is missing.
When a boy’s body is discovered on the beach, word spreads quickly through the small town. Ellie and Hardy arrive and immediately realize the death was no accident. Anguished mom Beth races to the scene only to learn that the dead boy is indeed her 11-year-old son Danny. As Ellie and Hardy work together to solve this devastating crime, they must also deal with two distraught families and a shattered community. The investigation intensifies, and it becomes clear that the killer is someone close to home. No one is immune from being cast a suspect, including Beth Latimer and her husband. This is a gripping, dramatic story set in a seemingly sleepy town that is bubbling with secrets and lies.
Kelly’s novel is an adaptation of the first season of the hit British drama Broadchurch, available on DVD. In October, FOX will begin airing Gracepoint, a 10-part reworking of the British drama set in California but interestingly featuring the same lead actor, David Tennant.
Once, Bell Elkins dreamed of escaping her West Virginia hometown of Ackers Gap, with its looming mountains and desperate poverty. But after living in the highest corporate echelons of Washington, D.C., Bell realizes that pursuing justice for the rich and powerful provides little professional satisfaction. Instead, she returns home to become the county prosecutor for Rathune County. Bell is forced to deal with the aftermath of her traumatic upbringing in Julia Keller’s latest novel, Summer of the Dead.
Bell’s older sister, Shirley, has been paroled from prison after serving a 30-year sentence for killing their father to prevent him from sexually molesting Bell. Through one horrifically violent act, Shirley gives Bell a chance at a decent life. Bell knows she owes Shirley, but her sister is angry and out of control.
While trying to heal her damaged relationship with her sister, Bell has two murders to solve. In one, an old man everyone liked was inexplicably bludgeoned to death in his driveway. In the other, a middle-aged man was killed while walking in the woods at night. There are few clues, and no obvious reasons. What little information is available leads Bell to the home of a retired coal miner and his daughter, Lindy. Lindy struggles to protect her damaged, sometimes violent parent by re-creating the mine her dad finds so familiar and comforting in the basement of their ramshackle home. As her father descends ever-deeper into dementia, Lindy discovers long-held secrets that reach into surprising places, proving that while everyone may know your name in a small town, that doesn’t mean they know you.
Julia Keller was a reporter and editor for the Chicago Tribune for 12 years, where she won the Pulitzer Prize. She was born and raised in West Virginia, and her immediate experience brings authenticity to her sense of place and characters. The first Bell Elkins novel, A Killing in the Hills won the Barry Award for best first novel. Readers who enjoy strong female characters or a rural setting will especially enjoy this series.