Jane and the Wandering Eye by Stephanie Barron

Bantam (first), 1998

“The actress’s magnificent form limned itself on the paving stones at my feet, like an enchantress materialising out of the common snow and dirt, and I knew her immediately for a woman any man might die to possess.” Surely Jane Austen would not have described a glimpse of a shadow in these grandiloquent terms. But  though Stephanie Barron cannot approach the style and talent of her protagonist, in presenting her readers with Austen-as-sleuth she is on to a very good thing. In the third mystery in this series, a guest at a masquerade ball is stabbed just as a Shakespearean actor is declaiming lines from Macbeth – if  it were done when ’tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly. On the victim’s body, near the wound, there is found a pendant on a gold chain – within it, the portrait of an eye!  Eye portraiture, we are told, was in vogue in Austen’s time, and was a means for some – including the dissolute Prince Regent – to carry with them always one fragment of the image of a clandestine lover.  High drama reaches an elegant denouement when evildoers are trapped into confession through a game of verbal charades: “My first has the making of honey to charm, My second brings breakfast to bed on your arm. My third bores a hole in leather so fine, While united the whole breaks a heart most unkind!” No betrayal of our interest here: Jane and The Wandering Eye is an erudite diversion. (Jeanne M. Jacobson)

Originally published in Issue # 152 – January/February 1998

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