With a subtitle like that, would could go wrong? Add an author who was an antiquarian book dealer and this reader is sold.
Lovett’s novel is lovely because it is a mystery, it is set in England, and it involves Jane Austen. Sometimes the writing is a little clunky, particularly in the first and last chapters. Love comes very quickly in the last chapter without much build-up. The lovers meet in the first chapter with a stilted argument that could have taken place in any American sitcom. The premise drew me in, however. Sophie Collingwood has recently graduated from Oxford and, with the luxury allowed to those from affluent families (her family inherited a fairly large estate), she is trying to decide what to do with her life post-graduation and hanging around in Oxford until she decides. She meets Eric Hall after overhearing an obnoxious remark about women and Jane Austen that he uttered in a pub and events move quickly from there, with Eric pursuing her across the countryside to her parent’s country home and provoking her father over dinner in a way no friend or family member would have dared, all capped by a midnight kiss in the garden that curls Sophie’s toes before he dashes off to France.
Between chapters about Sophie, Lovett interweaves chapters about Jane Austen and her relationship with the much, much older Mr. Mansfield, a clergyman who is staying in the gatehouse of the local earl’s estate. Mr. Mansfield becomes Jane’s literary confidante and even hears her confession of a childhood sin that still haunts her and that ultimately becomes the motivation for writing Pride and Prejudice.
As Jane’s relationship with Mansfield and her confidence in her own writing grows, Sophie learns of the death of her beloved uncle, who taught her to love books, and moves into his London flat and begins working for one of his book dealer friends. Intrigue begins when two customers ask her to find a second edition of an obscure volume of morality tales by a Reverend Mansfield. One of the customers woos her in person while the other threatens her by phone and knows too many of her daily routine details for comfort.
The novel was a fun read and, for a P & P fan, a great excuse to read more about Darcy and Lizzie and to envision the countryside Austen saw. The mystery kept the plot moving. Overall, a nice weekend read.