Jane and the Man of the Cloth

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In her Jane Austen series of mysteries, Stephanie Barron uses biographical and historical sources to re-create the time period, as well as the life of the famous writer. In both JANE AND THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT SCARGRAVE MANOR (1995) and now JANE AND THE MAN OF THE CLOTH, Barron re-creates for the reader a possible “reading” of an episode in Jane’s life, turning that episode into a mystery. While Barron does a noble job with the language and history surrounding the episode, she seems unsure of her heroine’s purpose—independent woman or romantic heroine. Though this flaw detracts from the ending of the novel, the details of the mystery keep the reader interested.

While journeying to Lyme for a family vacation, Jane and her family meet with misfortune when their carriage overturns and they are forced to spend a few days with the mysterious Geoffrey Sidmouth in his manor home. Jane becomes entranced with his dark good looks. Later, when she hears from others, namely Captain Fielding, a peg-legged former naval officer, that Sidmouth may be the notorious smuggler The Reverend, already presumed guilty for the murder of a local man who betrayed him, Jane finds it imperative to clear his name. Add to this mix Sidmouth’s cousin, the enigmatic Seraphine who walks the cliff in a red cloak, as well as the later death of Fielding himself, and the impetus to clear Sidmouth becomes even more crucial.

Told through a series of her journal entries, Barron’s Jane takes the reader to many dark, gothic houses, dank caves, and smugglers’ quarters before we learn the identity of the Reverend and the extent to which Jane will sacrifice herself to clear the man she, perhaps, loves.