You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
Donna F. Crow
and the book:
StoneHouse Ink (February 2014)
***Special thanks to author Donna F. Crow for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Donna Fletcher Crow, who lives in Idaho with her husband of 46 years, is the mother of four adult children, grandmother of 10 and author of thirty-some books, mostly novels dealing with British history. Her best known book is the epic historical novel Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England, which was awarded First Place, Historical Fiction, by the National Federation of Press Women.
Visit the author's website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:A JANE AUSTEN ENCOUNTER is Book Three in The Elizabeth and Richard Mystery Series. BOOK DESCRIPTION English professors Elizabeth and Richard are celebrating twenty years of marriage with their dream vacation—visiting all Jane Austen’s homes in England. But not even the overpowering personality of their Oxford guide or the careful attentions of their new friends can keep the tour free from lurking alarms. When a box of old documents is donated to the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, Richard volunteers to help sort through it. Later that night, however, he finds the Centre’s director bleeding on her office floor. Could the valuable letter that has gone missing really lead them to new revelations about Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscript The Watsons?
List Price: $13.49 paperback $4.99 kindle
Paperback: 248 pages
Publisher: StoneHouse Ink; 1 edition (February 20, 2014)
I don't usually read cozy mysteries, but Jane Austen caught my eye. I really enjoyed reading A Jane Austen Encounter. It's the first book I've read by Donna, but she kept me guessing until the very end.
Donna takes you to England to visit all the Jane Austen sites, and after reading the book, you almost feel as if you've been there. I learned a lot about the life of Jane Austen, as well as enjoyed a great mystery.
Richard and Elizabeth are loveable characters that draw you into the story, and into solving the mystery. I'll just leave it at that, because I don't want to give away any spoilers. ;)
A Jane Austen Encounter is a murder mystery, but besides the fact that there's been a murder, it's a very clean read, which I really appreciated. It gets five stars from me. A book I will want to read again.
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
“Ah, Bath!” Elizabeth sighed deeply and ran her fingers through her cap of mostly still-black hair. “Twenty years! Can you believe it took us so long to get here? Where did the time go?”
Richard’s eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled at her across the teacups, then held up one finger in a wait-a-minute gesture and pulled his calculator out of his pocket. After a moment of keypunching he said, “I make it 10,000 lectures and 8,000 students between the two of us. That’s approximate, of course.” He started to snap his calculator shut. “No, wait, I forgot summer school.”
“Richard!” Elizabeth grabbed his hand to halt his calculations. “Stop! The question was rhetorical. And you make it sound even worse than I thought. One thing’s clear, though— we’ve certainly earned this sabbatical.”
“Is everything all right?” The soft English voice of their period-costumed waitress in a white mob cap interrupted Elizabeth’s reminiscence. She looked at the floral china tier tray in the middle of their table. The scones were gone, but the tray still held an assortment of finger sandwiches and tiny cakes.
“Everything is perfect.” Elizabeth smiled and gazed around the Regency Tea room above the Jane Austen Centre. “Well, perhaps we might have another pot of tea,” she amended.
“And how many of those lectures were on the sublime Jane, would you say, my love?” She turned back to her companion.
Richard started to reach for his calculator again, but Elizabeth stopped him. “No, no. I was joking. You can’t reduce Jane to simple numbers. Anyone would think you were a math professor instead of the most popular English literature lecturer Rocky Mountain College has ever had.”
“Who had the good sense to marry his head of department.” Richard raised his tea cup to her. “Still, between the two of us, what with my class on the English Novel and your Austen seminar, we can hope to have produced our share of Janeites.”
Elizabeth looked at the pale blue walls surrounding the roomful of tiny round tables where people sat sipping cups of tea and spreading scones with jam and clotted cream. She smiled at the portrait of Mr. Darcy just beyond Richard’s head. “And for all those years we’ve dreamed of this trip.” She took a sip of her milky tea and leaned back in her chair. “I can’t believe we’re actually here.”
Richard bit into a salmon sandwich and chewed thoughtfully. “Twenty years. Any regrets?”
Elizabeth sat forward so sharply she almost sloshed her tea. “Oh, my dear. Not a one.” Then she paused. She had spoken quickly. And from the heart. And yet. . . “Not any more. Truly.”
She hid her contemplation under the activity of refilling her teacup from the fresh pot their waitress provided. Her words were true. There had been pain, but no regrets. Even the bad times were good because they had made both of them who they were today.
For the first years of their marriage there had been the grief of not having a child, once it became clear that it was not to be. That had been a sharp pain— fear, even, for Elizabeth. Knowing that Richard’s first wife and child had died in childbirth made her want so desperately to make all that up to him. And then she hadn’t been able to. And she was so afraid he would be disappointed. As was she.
And Richard? There had been that student who had set her cap at him. Richard had resisted, but the fact that he could be tempted had left scars. Scars that made them both stronger and wiser.
She gazed at the planes of his strong cheek bones, now softened a bit by time, and his still-rich brown hair, slightly less thick. But the thing that hadn’t changed at all was the burning intelligence behind his grey blue eyes. Or the way looking into them could make her heart leap.
Still, was Richard truly happy? He had never given the slightest indication that it bothered him that she was the head of the English Department, while he remained a professor. He never seemed to be the least bothered by the fact that his scholarly articles on Dante and some rather obscure English poets got less attention than her publications on more popular topics. When she was honored as Outstanding Graduate by her California alma mater a few years ago no one offered more fervent congratulations than Richard. And never once did he indicate feeling neglected at not receiving similar kudos from his university in New England.
Not often enough did she say Thank you for this truly good man. Their eyes met across the table. Did she read doubt in his?
Richard returned Elizabeth’s gaze. After all these years he still felt a jolt of surprise at times that this dynamic woman was his wife. He had fallen head-over-heels in love with her at their first interview when he had struggled so to answer her academic questions instead of blurting out an invitation for her to have dinner with him.
And then, that first year working together and his repeated proposals of marriage— always turned down with such gentle humor that he kept up the courage to ask again. And finally, that cold, wet night at a mountain top resort and the unveiling of an audaciously wily murderer when she said, “Yes!”
But had she been right? He was a rather dull fellow, he knew it: Given to prosing on about some abstract subject; always one to play it safe; never splash out and take chances. Would he have risen higher in his career if he had been more adventurous? Would Elizabeth be happier?
But as the years rolled on at their dizzying speed with their lives so full of students and friends and colleagues and family times as they played aunt and uncle to Elizabeth’s sister Tori’s brood, he had come more and more to value their quiet times together. And suddenly here they were— celebrating their twentieth anniversary with the sabbatical they had always dreamed of, touring all the sites where Jane Austen had lived.
Of course, for him it would be a bit of a busman’s honeymoon since Rocky Mountain required their faculty to produce works of scholarly research in order to justify granting a sabbatical. And coming up with an appropriately erudite subject was his most pressing mission at the moment. Lucky Elizabeth, she was free of all that now.
“Sure you don’t regret resigning your position as department head?” Richard cut in on her reverie.
“Especially not that! What a relief to be free of the administration work. No, I’m definitely ready for a change of pace. A new challenge.”
The words rang in Elizabeth’s own ears as she spoke them. A new challenge. Yes, that was what she needed. With all the busyness of finishing up the school year and getting ready for this trip, she hadn’t given the future much thought. But hearing the words spoken aloud— from her own mouth— made her wonder. She was only in her fifties— a young woman by today’s standards. As attractive as sitting around reading novels and eating bon bons sounded, she knew such shallowness would have her screaming in less than a week. If they had had children she might be expecting grandchildren now, but as it was. . .
Richard raised an eyebrow. He looked almost worried, as if she had spoken the very words he had been thinking. “You weren’t bored were you?”
Elizabeth chuckled. Richard knew well her low tolerance for boredom. She had turned down his first proposals of marriage under the misapprehension that he would be boring. How wrong she had been to mistake thoughtfulness for dullness. In twenty years life with Richard had never been dull.
And she was determined to see to it that it not become dull now. Whatever new direction life took it must offer challenge.
And, to be completely honest, their life had settled into something of a routine after the very exciting start their relationship had solving an actual murder at that mystery weekend that was intended to be merely a carefree intellectual puzzle. And then, only a few months later, facing down a murderer once more on their honeymoon. That had been the first scrape her sister Victoria had involved them in and there was the one other. . . Goodness after all that and some 8000 students, it was little wonder she felt they had justly earned an idyllic trip to England.
She nibbled at a delicate cucumber sandwich and recalled those long-ago adventures to Richard. But they obviously weren’t lighthearted memories for her husband. He reached across the table and took her hand. “Don’t. When I think of you being in danger. . .”
Elizabeth laughed. “I don’t think I was ever in serious danger. Still, I wouldn’t want to be chasing murderers again.”
Richard gave her one of his wonderful, eye-crinkling smiles. “Little fear there, not with lovely, civilized Jane. No murder, no sex, no zombies.”
“Definitely no zombies! You’ll find us all purists here. Guaranteed.” Elizabeth started at the clipped, English voice of the newcomer and looked up at a woman with blunt-cut iron grey hair, her broad shoulders encased in a shocking purple blouse.
“Dr. Greystone?” Richard rose and took the hand the newcomer offered for a vigorous handshake. Elizabeth saw that she was almost as tall as Richard.
“Call me Muriel. Please, don’t get up. I didn’t mean to interrupt your tea.”
“No, not at all, won’t you join us? This is my wife Elizabeth.” Richard pulled out a vacant chair for their guest.
Muriel Greystone accepted the chair Richard offered and the cup of tea Elizabeth poured when the waitress brought another cup. “No milk. Two sugars,” Muriel Greystone directed and accepted a sandwich from the tray Richard held out to her. “Sorry to be late. Trains from Oxford always unreliable. And then Gerri must stop in the loo. She’ll be along soon.”
“Gerri?” Richard asked.
“Geraldine Hammersley, my assistant, working on her PhD. Very keen on Jane, she is. Surely I mentioned her in one of my letters— writing her thesis on Jane Austen’s spiritual life.” The corners of her mouth pulled down in a near-grimace. “Sounds a bit wet, I know. But a valid enough topic, I suppose, what with Jane being a daughter of the manse and all that.”
“We both enjoyed your article on Jane Austen’s use of landscape to exhibit character in the JASNA Quarterly, Dr. Greystone, er— Muriel,” Elizabeth said. Although the correspondence had been almost entirely between Richard and Dr. Greystone he had shared all her letters with Elizabeth after he began writing to the author of the aforementioned article following its publication by the Jane Austen Society of North America.
Richard had been delighted when the noted academic had offered to be their tour guide to the sites of Jane’s homes. Elizabeth readily saw the advantage that offered for Richard’s sabbatical study, even though Muriel Greystone might not have been quite the first person Elizabeth would have chosen to accompany them on what was intended to be something of a second honeymoon. But at least they weren’t likely to have this time interrupted by murder as their first honeymoon had been.
“So sorry to be late.” A short, plump woman with frizzy red hair in trousers tunic and flowing orange scarf scuttled into the empty chair at their table before Richard could stand to help her.
“Never mind, Gerri. I made your excuses,” Dr. Greystone said. “Richard, Elizabeth, this is Geraldine Hammersley. Gerri, the doctors Richard and Elizabeth Spenser.”
Geraldine pushed her tortoiseshell glasses back up on her nose. “I’m so pleased to meet you. I’m so looking forward to researching together.”
Muriel Greystone took another sandwich but didn’t offer the tray to Geraldine. “Don’t suppose you want anything, Gerri, since you had tea on the train.”
“Oh.” Geraldine looked uncertain. “Oh, no. No thank you.”
Elizabeth wasn’t so sure. “Are you sure? We can easily ask for another cup.”
“No, really. Thank you.” Geraldine studied the white tablecloth.
“Well, then, if you’ve all finished—” Muriel finished her tea with a gulp and pushed her chair back. “I suggest we get on about our work.”
Elizabeth eyed the pastry remaining on the tray, but rose obediently when Richard stood and placed a hand on the back of her chair to pull it out for her.
“Told Claire— the director here, you know— I’d do the lecture for the next batch of punters. The potted history their tour guides here produce are all very well, but bit of a treat for them to get a real scholar’s view, don’t you know. Wouldn’t want to say no and I knew you wouldn’t mind.”
“No, of course not, we’re delighted,” Richard said. “We haven’t done the tour of the centre yet. We’d be most honoured to have you guide us.”
“Absolutely.” Elizabeth realized her smile was forced, but really, what possible objection could there be to
having an expert as a personal guide?