reviewed by Chris Richards.
Exciting and satisfying, Richard M Jones presents an adjacent history beginning back over 200 years ago, showing the ripples of choices and snap judgements made down the years in his new fiction novel Austen Secret. This is the second adventure with Sidney, Ali and Gemma as its lead treasure hunters, following on from Boleyn Gold. This time Daniel Newcombe, the grandson of an avid rare book collector, seeks out our heroes to find a lost collection of papers and books mentioned in encoded diaries from blitz torn London back in World War II. After some hard research, a lot of luck and a couple of dangerous sabotage attempts, Jane Austen’s lost papers become the focus of their searches.
While being respectful of history, Austen’s memory and the research process, the story is exhilarating and carries you through the highs and lows seamlessly in the hunt for new leads and mysterious and treasured books. There is a feeling of experience and authority in the historical passages. This confident voice bleeds into the fiction of Austen’s unpublished works. I found myself needing to check if this is based in fact. It is not. I can’t pretend I wasn’t a little sad about that, which is testament to the wish fulfilling motivation behind this story. The balance between fantasy and reality creates the perfect environment for suspending reality and complete immersion. This book has a comfortably arms-length treatment of danger and convincingly cynical reactions to coincidence. I believe my difficulty to relate to the ‘baddy’s’ motivation is an intentional device. The feelings of loss, waste and impotence is palpable. Such a bleak character view is punishment enough which released me from my discomfort. Likewise, the suspense created by the disciplined resistance to rush in is frustrating but also makes the pay-off tangibly rewarding.
It works well as a stand-alone novel. We the reader are in safe hands with all things factually retrospective; this may only be Jones’s second fictional novel, but it is preceded by six non-fiction historical research projects culminating in published works. Planting his feet firmly in the treasure hunting genre but maintaining fresh and authentic voices keeps the story relatable even if I do lack the real-life researcher’s perspective. The potentially dry aspects of the research process are not ignored but dealt with lightly enough to allow a consistent pace.
Jones’s background is as a Navel engineer and is anchored by his family when he hits terra firma. I would recommend this book for entertainment, diversion and a little escapism for adults. Not terribly long so perfect for curling up with for a comfortable quiet evening.
There is a launch party on Saturday, October 5th in The Dolphin Hotel, Southampton at 1.30pm – free tickets available via Eventbrite.
Published by Lodge Books,on October 5, 2019.