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Jane Austen Investigates - The Abbey Mystery - Julia Golding

If I'm honest, I was a bit worried when I received this advance copy that it wouldn't be quite 'my cup of tea' (despite the lovely lavender tea bag included as a gift!). How wrong I was!

Today, I'm thrilled to be part of the blogtour for this brilliant book.

Full of twists and turns, and with funny and clever nods to the original Austen books, I am absolutely enamoured with the young Jane, who is one of my favourite characters in a book this year.

Set in her youth, the novel follows the young Jane as she becomes the somewhat unwilling companion to Lady Cromwell of Southmoor Abbey in place of her sister. Naturally curious, she is unable to resist getting involved in solving the mysteries that arise: family feuds and inheritances, stolen horses, ghostly apparitions and mysterious fires all add to the action along the way.

The pacy plot kept me absolutely hooked, and was cleverly drawn out, with unexpected turns of event and clever, gasp-inducing reveals along the way. The Regency settings and descriptions of life were wonderfully evocative.

The inclusion of characters such as an Indian chef/warrior and his daughter (which may prompt discussion about British colonialism and the treatment of servants at that time), and of the clever stablehand (and mystery solving accomplice!) whose ideas are not taken seriously because of his lowly social status, are also a thought provoking element of the story as we are led to question their treatment within the household and the attitudes of the time in a sensitive manner through Jane's encounters with them.

I loved the young Jane - her need to challenge, stand up for herself and others, and question what was right was a major part of my enjoyment of the story, and a brilliant introduction to the genre and writings of Austen for younger readers.

The inclusion of letters and riddles from Jane to her family was clever, and a lovely nod to the texts and characters of the original classics upon which this series is based. Yes, I said 'series'!

I'm thrilled to say a second book with this brilliant heroine is on the way later this year, and I can't wait!!

As part of the blogtour for this book, I am thrilled to be able to share this exclusive guest post from author, Julia Golding, along with her 'Top 5' Crime novels for children:

No one who had ever seen Jane Austen in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be a detective…
My adaptation of the opening line of Northanger Abbey is the starting point for Jane Austen Investigates. Like Catherine Morland, the hapless ingenue who finds herself the heroine of a mock-gothic drama and coming of age story, I wanted to find a way of imagining the coming of age of the author, Jane Austen. And what are the good qualities of an author, I hear you cry? (Well, I don’t, but I’m imagining this). That would be curiosity, intelligence and a desire to solve puzzles. When you list the qualities in that way, it rapidly becomes apparent that the description would equally serve a detective, thus solving the genre in which I would explore the imagined world of the young Jane.
Jane Austen is for me the finest novelist in the English language. Her world might feel relatively small – she mentions ‘3 or 4 Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on’ – but only because she has so much to say. It is the miniature that reveals the world – another of her images is ‘the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a brush’ so she was well aware of her self-imposed limits. My history with her started as a reader, returning to her books with pleasure over the years, then I also studied her more seriously as a scholar when I did a doctorate in the literature of her period at Oxford University. Finally, when I came to be an author myself with my first historical series, the Cat Royal books, I found Jane was the starting point for the voice of a lively girl of the era. She even makes a guest appearance in Cat’s life in the first book The Diamond of Drury Lane, but like a cameo from a film director, this is only for the very sharp-eyed to notice!
One of the joys about writing the Jane Austen Investigates series is being able to reverse engineer her life (my fictional version of it). There is much we do not know about her inspirations – or the inspirations of any writer for that matter – because it is a mysterious blend of experience and imagination that is rarely described in detail and can only be pieced together by research and guesswork. Having fun with this, I was able to lay a trail of breadcrumbs through Jane Austen Investigates: The Abbey Mystery suggesting where she might have found her originals for characters that crop up in Northanger Abbey. In that way, it is a detective story within a detective story with the reader following the clues. A girl who had this adventure would undoubtedly be able to go on and write the adult novel.
As for the inspiration of the location, her Northanger Abbey isn’t as romantic as Catherine Morland hopes, having been modernised. My house in the novel is allowed to indulge in more gothic pleasures, including rumours of a ghostly monk, and is based on such wonderful homes as Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge and Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds. (A National Trust Membership is a great present for an historical fiction writer). The abbey itself is a character in the book and you will get to know it well, exploring everywhere from the stables to the attics. Few of us can afford to live in such mansions but as readers we are welcome to move in.
I hope you enjoy my Jane as a detective. If you’re new to Jane Austen, it might give you a gentle introduction before you embark on her exquisite novels. If you are an old hand, then I hope you will have a few chuckles and smiles of recognition as you turn the pages.
My Top Five Crime Novels for Children
1. Moonfleet – John Meade Falkner
This is a favourite from my own childhood, inspired by holidays visiting some of the locations that appear in the book, notably Carisbrooke Castle. John Trenchard, an orphan, is our hero, and the tale is set in the 18th century. There’s smuggling, codes to decipher, and a lost diamond.
2. The Murderer’s Ape – Jakob Wegelius
This is my favourite children’s book of the last few years. I was fortunate enough to be sent a review copy and I’ve been a cheerleader for it ever since. Sally Jones, our ape heroine, is on a mission to clear the name of her owner. Tender, funny, and moving. Beautifully illustrated, it would make a wonderful gift.
3. Skulduggery Pleasant – Derek Landy
Another unorthodox crime solver – Skulduggery is our skeletal detective, teamed up with Stephanie. It had a great urbane tone with lots of jokes at the expense of the hard-bitten gumshoe genre. The series has been a favourite with my oldest son who has followed it for years. Great for readers who want a long series to get their skeletal teeth into.
4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
A theme seems to be emerging here of unusual detectives! Christopher Boone is on the autism spectrum and sets out to solve the mystery of the death of a local dog. What it is like to be Christopher is part of the mystery that the book tries to unravel so it works on many levels for the reader.
5. The Roman Mysteries – Caroline Lawrence
Another long series for a young reader – with the added value that they will be able to tour many sites of the Roman empire and have that world come to life. The team of detectives are four diverse young people: Flavia, daughter of a ship’s captain, Jonathan, a Jewish boy, Nubia a slave, and Lupus a mute beggar boy. Don’t miss the eruption of Vesuvius in book 2!

Thank you so much to Julia for the guest blog, and to Fern at Lion Hudson for including me on this blogtour and providing the advance copy of the book to review. Check out what others have to say via the 'stops' shown below.

Julia Golding is on Twitter as @jgoldingauthor, and publishers Lion Hudson as @LionHudson

Watch a trailer for the book here:

Review by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot) April 2021. All.opinions are honest and my own.

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