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Jane and the Wandering Eye by Stephanie…
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Jane and the Wandering Eye

by Stephanie Barron

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I had a harder time getting into this book in the series. I feel like the motivation for Jane's involvement with the crime was thin. I was also confused as to the real motivation for the murder because there were too many people involved with the crime. ( )
  annertan | Jul 31, 2014 |
This was the first of the series that I felt was less-solidly built. I think it had a lot to do with its locale. While the first mystery takes place at a manor and the second in a small sea-side community (both mean a small cast of characters and easy-to-follow plots), Jane and the Wandering Eye takes place in Bath (this means a large cast of characters, constantly shifting in and out of town). Well-versed Janeites will know, of course, that Austen hated living in Bath, a trait that she gave her final heroine, Anne Elliot. She missed the country, and it shows in Barron's version of her.

But the cast of this novel is too large. In its scope, it's more like "Law & Order" and less like "Columbo"...not that I don't love "Law & Order," but you know how sometimes they introduce characters at minute 10 and minute 25 (right around introducing the person who actually did it) and by the time you get to their testimony in minute 51, you can't remember who the hell they are? That's how this plot felt. Though the story did deal quite a bit with actors and the theatre, which is something that always makes me perk up a bit (especially on "Law & Order"!) Lord Harold, who appears in the previous two books, is present yet again, but as it is his direction that leads to Austen's involvement in the plot-thickening, as it were, the whole thing seems a little convoluted.

As for the wandering eye of the title, I was kind of hoping it would be about those paintings where the eyes follow you around the room? You know, like the Mona Lisa or those paintings in the Haunted Mansion. But actually it's about eye portraits of the eighteenth century - instead of miniatures of a lover's face or torso (think Wickham's/Darcy's miniatures in Pride & Prejudice), artists would do portraits of just someone's eye in the same size, and then the painting would be set in a locket or a watch or a brooch....seriously, how creepy can we get here?

That's like the eighteenth-century version of creepy Skype-ing. Very digital get down. "Oh, Lord so-and-so I'm so very erotically to always have this painting of your eye close to my heart." Gross. No wonder none Austen's books have crap like that - it's disturbing! I mean, Captain Benwick's miniature likeness being drawn up for Fanny Harville is one thing. That's like keeping a photo of a loved one in your wallet (so I guess his then having the painting re-set and engraved for Louisa Musgrove...that'd be like stealing from someone's wallet...?), but just an eye? Creepy. Barron handles the creepiness tolerably and assigns the owners of such tokens with a decent amount of both validity and eccentricity.

But while she succeeds there, she seems to fail in Lord Harold. Maybe it's the romantic in me, but the stop-and-start of his emotions is too much. Isn't Bath busy enough without the added ruckus? I'm hoping the next novel (Jane and the Genius of the Place is a little less crowded (based on the fact that we're moving chronologically, and the fact that I know Austen lived in Bath until 1805, and on the fact that Wandering Eye takes place in December 1804, I have reason to hope that we may be granted a reprieve from that awful city). ( )
  laurscartelli | Oct 31, 2011 |
Art, drama and mystery collide in Bath

I confess to being a silly, shallow creature when it comes to my partiality for fine art and the stage. Show me a beautiful Regency-era portrait by Thomas Lawrence or Richard Cosway, mention famous Drury Lane actors Sarah Siddons and her brothers Charles and John Kemble and my sensibilities rival Marianne Dashwood’s fondness for dead leaves. Mix in my favorite author Jane Austen embroiled in a murder mystery centered around artists and actors in Bath, and I am in sensory swoon.

Jane and the Wandering Eye is the third novel in the popular Being a Jane Austen Mystery series in which the famous authoress uses her astute skills of observation and logic as an amateur sleuth to solve crime. In 1804 Jane, her sister Cassandra and their parents are residing in Bath. Despite the jollity of the Christmas season, Jane is “insupportably bored with Bath” and its social diversions, many of which are outside her means. She is, however, happy to accept a commission from her particular friend and Rogue-about-Town Lord Harold Trowbridge to spy on his niece Lady Desdemona. The young ingénue has recently fled London and the unwanted attentions of the Earl of Swithins to seek refuge in Bath with her grandmother the Dowager Duchess of Wilborough. Jane, her brother Henry and his wife Eliza attend a masquerade party at the Duchesses Laura Place residence in honor of Bath’s Theatre Royal players. Also in attendance is Madame Lefroy, Jane’s neighbor and dearest friend. During the party they witness a drama unfold as tragic as any Shakespearean play. The theatre troupe’s stage manager Richard Portal is found stabbed to death with Lord Harold’s nephew Simon, Marquis of Kinsfell standing over him with a bloody knife in his hand and an open window behind him.

Mr. Elliot the local magistrate is summoned and witnesses questioned. Since everyone was in costume it is difficult to follow the events of the evening, but he soon learns that the key suspect, the Marquis in the Knight costume, was seen arguing with the victim, Mr. Portal in a white Harlequin costume, and challenged him to a duel. They were separated and Mr. Portal was asked to leave the party, later reappearing as a corpse in an anteroom with in knife threw his heart. Curiously, a miniature portrait of an eye is found on his body. Under protest, the Marquis is charged with murder and thrown in the local goal. What started out for Jane as a mild request to observe and report on Lord Harold’s niece has now turned into a scandalous murder by his nephew, drawing him to Bath, and into Jane’s confidence. Taken with his charm, intelligence and family drama, she cannot refuse him anything and they join forces to investigate the facts, unravel the crime, and discover the murderer.

Warning. If you blink too long in the first chapter you might miss significant clues. Stephanie Barron hardly lets us breath for fear we would miss something. The dense and fast paced events had me furiously writing notes to keep the facts and characters straight. It is unusual to have a murder transpire so quickly, but I enjoyed the build-up and the shock of the reveal. The mystery progresses from Jane Austen’s perspective as we read her lost journals edited by the author with added footnotes. The historical detail is entrancing to me. Not only do we follow events and people from Jane Austen’s life, but the social and cultural details were amazing in their depth and interest. At times I found the prose thick and heavy, craving a bit of brevity in the language, but overall Barron does an excellent job at early nineteenth-century Austen-speak. Her dialogue was even more engaging. The characterization of Jane’s parents Rev. and Mrs. Austen’s ironic divergence in personalities was entertaining, her brother Henry and gadabout wife Eliza’s joie de vivre delightful, and roguish Lord Harold was well, just dishy enough to curl any hard hearted spinsters toes. *swoon*

Having the advantage of previously reading all the novels in this series before, I can firmly attest that Jane and the Wandering Eye is my favorite in the series. I loved the historical detail on art and the lives of its creators, actors and their social machinations with aristocrats, and all the intimate dealing of Jane Austen and her family. Originally published in 1998, I can honestly say that with a decade of study and appreciation of the Regency-era behind me, this mystery was even fresher, more intriguing and enlightening the second time round. I recommend it highly.

Laurel Ann, Austenprose ( )
1 vote Austenprose | Mar 10, 2011 |
Ms. Barron does such a masterful job of combining real events with her fictional murder-mysteries. I like the character that she has created in Jane - despite her family's disapproval, Jane persists in keeping company with Lord Trowbridge in their combined attempt to find the real killer. Lots of false leads and multiple possibilities. ( )
  tjsjohanna | Apr 5, 2009 |
Murder Amongst Actors and Artists
July 2001

The book opens on a masquerade in honor of an acting company, with our fictional Jane Austen in the guise of a Shepardess, and the scene ends with a murdered Harlequin, stabbed during a dramatic soliloquy from Macbeth (the "cursed play"). Harlequin turns out to be Richard Portal, manager of the troupe. A young man is standing over the body, knife in hand, but all is not as it seems, as is usual in mystery books.

It turns out this young man is a relative of Lord Harold, Jane's old nemesis-turned-ally from the first of the Jane Mysteries. Lord Harold and Miss Austen comb the worlds of acting, staging a scene of their own in order to rifle Mr. Portal's papers, and of artistry, as it turns out that the "Wandering Eye" of the title, a mysterious, expensively-made eye portrait had been found on the corpse. As is usual in Ms. Barron's Jane mysteries, one learns much of the cultural history of the Regency period -- the tumultuous politics of the time, the fashions in dress and affectation (Jane runs into some of the dandies of the day), and the ways in which people's reputations her broadcast (imagine, they had gossip columns -- one can't blame current media for starting the practice of nosing into people's private lives!)

I found the solution to the mystery a little disappointing, but the characters much more interesting than in the two previous books. Jane and her sister Cassandra's relationship strains with their increasing age and obvious spinsterhood, Jane reacts to the smearing of her own good name, and Jane loses a very close friend. Ms. Barron has done an excellent job of weaving Jane Austen's real biography (and actual words - I noted several phrases from Austen's own novels and letters inserted liberally into the text) into dramatic action. I think Jane herself would have found these books amusing; we now think of Austen as having a retired, uneventful life, and these books paint a portrait very different. The queen of irony would have smirked. ( )
  meepbobeep | Mar 8, 2009 |
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A rout-party, when depicted by a pen more accomplished than my own, is invariably a stupid affair of some two or three hundred souls pressed elbow-to-elbow in the drawing-rooms of the great.
Quotations
"More lives have been ruined — more spirits broken — from a fear of idle gossip and report, than are numbered on Napoleon's battlefields, Miss Austen."
The precarious ground of Camden Place might readily serve as metaphor, for all in mankind that prefer false grandeur to a more stable propriety.
For any man may possess a heart, and the most wounded sensibility, though he parade like a peacock and grin like a monkey.
"I do confess, Lord Harold, that with so much of sorrow to be found in the everyday — tragedies, perhaps, of a smaller scale — I can but wonder that we pay so often for the privilege of enduring it. When I exert my energies towards the theatre, I hope to be transported — to leave such griefs and disappointments behind."
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553578170, Mass Market Paperback)

It's evident from the opening lines of Jane and the Wandering Eye that author Stephanie Barron knows both her Regency-period England and her Jane Austen. In this novel, the famous author takes center stage and finds herself embroiled in nefarious doings--in this case, the murder of a theater manager. As in the series' other books, Jane herself tells the story through a series of journal entries, and it is in her heroine's voice that Barron's genius comes to light: the same sharp eye for detail and ironic understanding of human character that informed Miss Austen's novels are hard at work in this fictional account of her sideline occupation as a sleuth. Though the mystery at the heart of Jane and the Wandering Eye is hardly a nail-biter, the wonderful mix of fictional and historical characters--all rendered up with Austenian wit--that inhabit this murderous comedy of manners are what will keep readers going to the very last page--and coming back for more.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:45 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

In 1804 Bath, an eye portrait helps sleuth Jane Austen solve a murder at a masked ball. The miniature--a painting of the eye of a loved one--provides the clue in finding the real killer, thus saving the life of a falsely accused suspect.

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