Thursday, August 23, 2012

Review: Death of a Schoolgirl by Joanna Campbell Slan

Death of a Schoolgirl by Joanna Campbell Slan, August 2012, 339 pages, Berkley Publishing Group, ISBN: 0425247740

1820 Yorkshire and married couple Jane Eyre Rochester and Edward Rochester and their newborn son Ned are living in a ramshackle hunting lodge after the Rochester home has been burnt down. Edward's eyes were damaged in the fire and he is now partially sighted. Edward's ward Adele is down in London at a small and exclusive boarding school however the Rochesters are worried about her as her letters have been short and formal with no mention of the new arrival to the family. Matters come to ahead when a letter from Adele includes a threatening letter against her. Edward is unable to travel for a while, on doctor's orders, so Jane must set off on her own.

Jane's journey to London is not without incident and a robbery leaves her with a bruises and a black-eye. Upon arrival in London she is warmly taken in by an old friend of Edward's, Lucy Brayton.

When Jane goes to visit Adele she is shocked to see a body being removed from the school. Jane is unable to speak to Adele as the poor girl found her classmate dead and has been tranquillised with laudanum. Jane's plain attire leads her to being mistaken for the expected replacement German teacher and as the Bow Street Runners are investigating the suspicious death, Jane agrees to act the part of teacher and protect Adele and the rest of the girls.

As Jane investigates she find that the dead girl had many enemies and many mysteries. Can she unearth the real murderer before the wrong one is accused?

DEATH OF A SCHOOLGIRL is the first in the Jane Eyre Chronicles the story of Jane Eyre, written by her own hand and lost until now. I haven't yet read Jane Eyre (but I have seen two BBC series including the extended 1983 Timothy Dalton/Zelah Clarke version) and I understand it to be much more than just a love story, but also concerning itself with gender and class inequalities, morality and more. DEATH OF A SCHOOLGIRL continues this approach, with it being more than a crime plot with an already well-known character, as Jane and many of her colleagues at the school rail against what is expected of them because of their gender and position in society. Jane is also quite self-reflective and frequently mentions how she misses Edward and Ned. Edward himself only makes an appearance at each end of the book.

Much of the original Jane Eyre story is woven in as are some of the characters. Being set in a boarding school there are many reflections by Jane on her miserable time at Lowood and how poor its conditions were, compared to the luxury these girls have.

Jane is well placed to be a detective as she is a married to a member of the quality, has her own fortune but can also take up her old profession of governess/teaching; she has a foot in both ends of the class system.

The answer to the whodunnit is hidden in plain sight and to my chagrin, I missed it, which meant I was kept guessing almost to the end as to the motive and person behind the crime.

The book is written in an authentic and easily readable style. It does suffer, at least in my netgalley proof, from a touch of Americanitus with a few gottens, sidewalks and snickers, a normalcy and an appearance by a mockingbird (none of these terms being in my kindle version of Jane Eyre) as well as toward for towards, talk with for talk to and write for write to. I can understand why they are there, as the main readership will be American, but they do stick out like a sore thumb to a British reader.

I greatly enjoyed DEATH OF A SCHOOLGIRL and I hope there are more chronicles to come and I really must read Jane Eyre!


Anonymous said...

Karen - Thanks for your fine review. It's not really easy to create a solid mystery using a famous literary character although I know it's been done a few times. It's good to hear that this one worked for you.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

I appreciate Karen's review. And as for that American-itis, what can I say but guilty as charged! Unfortunately, it's clear that one year in England wasn't enough to cure me.

Keen Reader said...

Why didn't the author run it past a few British readers before publication? That would have solved the 'gotten' (etc.) flaws.