Author: Lyndsay Faye
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Date of Publication: March 22, 2016
I try to read the novels nominated each year for the Best Novel Edgar before the winner is announced by the Mystery Writers of America. I pick my own winner and see how it stacks up against the Mystery Writers. Each year there is one book which I dread reading; usually that book is something way off of my usual reading path. This year Jane Steele was that book. Likewise, there is always one book each year which totally surprises me and makes me glad I read it. Jane Steele was that book this year as well!
This is not the classic "who-done-it" or police procedural. This book reinvents Jane Eyre. The reader follows the life of Jane Steele, the daughter of a British gentleman and a French lady. Orphaned young, Jane leaves the family home for boarding school and, finally, to life in Victorian London. The book comes full circle when, as a young adult, Jane is hired as a governess by the new owners of her childhood estate. Each stop along the way Jane is involved in a mishap whereupon someone is killed. Just as this book is not the usual mystery novel, Jane is certainly not the usual serial killer.
The plot is almost incidental to the writing. The author excuisitely describes mid-1800s life in various locales in Britain. The sections focused on London were particularly entertaining. The various secondary characters are all vibrantly brought to life and add many dimensions to the story. The hero, though, is Jane herself, who ventures into self-discovery and survives devastating circumstances time and again.
Here is an example of the author's ability to draw her characters. Jane is in London, having abandoned the private school to which she had been sent after her mother's death. She encounters a man selling newspapers:
"Then I heard a strange voice calling out.
'Most 'orrible and beastly murder done! Most haudacious and black crime committed!'
A man of middle age stood with a sheaf of yellow papers, crying out the latest atrocities. He was bent over - I hesitated to call him hunchbacked, but he flirted with the appellation - a heavy, downward-leaning human whom I could imagine tracking rabbits like a bloodhound. He owned a bloodhound's jaw too, a great slab on either side of his face framing his crooked teeth with fleshy drapery. His hair was russet and his eyes a hard yellowish hazel like petrified wood.
'Murder most'einous!' he cried. 'Murder most hunnatural! Penny a page, miss.'"
So, this book succeeds on many levels. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was genuinely sad when I had finished it. I would not be surprised if Jane Steel was the Mystery Writers' pick for the Best Novel Edgar!