My Jane Austen readathon (four down, two to go) has made me preternaturally sensitive to Jane-referential titles. Kipling’s famous short story, “The Janeites,” a tale of WWI soldiers whose disillusionment is relieved by discussions of Austen, gives us the origin of the descriptive tag for Austen fans. And the bright, gorgeous red and black cover of Nicolas Freeling’s brilliant mystery, The Janeites (Arcadia Books: EuroCrime ), practically leaped off the shelf, with its design outshining the other books'. But of course the title, taken from Kipling's story, was the clincher.
The Janeites is a stand-alone mystery. Freeling (1927-2003), who won the Golden Dagger Award from the Crime Writers Association, the Grand Prix de Roman Policier, and the Edgar Allan Poe Award of the Mystery Writers of America, was best known for his Van der Valk detective series. Eventually he grew bored with the series and killed off the hero: fans protested. Freeling also wrote the Henri Castang series and several stand-alones.
The two protagonists of The Janeites are linked by their “detective” work in different fields, medicine and police work. Raymond, a Jesuit doctor, treats William, a retired high-powered guard for highly-placed politicians, for cancer. Raymond believes that the police are “mostly pretty dim,” but William is exceptional, and too young for cancer. And because Raymond believes that “blockages” (caused by stress, life changes, etc.) can breed cancer, he tries to shake up his patients with new interests to take them out of themselves. Raymond’s unconventional cure for William includes becoming a Janeite. Ray remembers the Kipling story, and how Jane cured the shell-shocked soldier. A woman is hired to read Emma to William. But William doesn’t stop being a cop: when Raymond is beaten to a pulp in the streets of Strasbourg by a professional thug and ends up in the hospital, William tries to find out who bore the grudge.
William says of Emma:
“Getting quite addicted to Jane. I mean Harriet’s girlish confusion over who she’s in love with, it couldn’t be more boring but I don’t fall asleep, I still want to know what happens next.”
“Because it’s real. The world we live in, all the noise that’s made about it profoundly unreal, we look and say ok, what the hell. The ethical problems are the same; who one’s going to marry, is he the right social level and has he enough money. The man in the Kipling story says ‘They’re all on the make in a quiet way.’ We’re no different.”
Several Janeites are created in the course of the novel: William, the woman Ray hires to read, Josephine (William’s separated wife), and Ray himself. And their discussions of the books fit in nicely with the structure of the novel.
Highly recommended! A really good mystery.