In 1931’s The Incredible Crime by Lois Austen-Leigh, Prudence Pinsent lives in Cambridge as the daughter of the master of Prince’s College, where she keeps things exciting. One day in November she drives to Suffolk to stay with her cousin, Lord Wellende, when she runs into her old friend, Coast Guard Captain Studde, who confides in Prudence that he is on the trail of drug smugglers whose distribution center is in Cambridge but has connections to Lord Wellende to some degree.
The Incredible Crime is full of humor and wit, which is not a surprise when you learn that the author is the granddaughter of the favorite nephew of Jane Austen. Austen-Leigh’s writing reflects the clever details of books by her famous aunt and seems almost like the kind of book Austen might have written should she have tried her hand at mystery fiction. Almost, but not quite. However, the book still was highly enjoyable. I enjoyed the way the plot takes many turns and keeps us guessing about exactly what is going on.
I enjoyed the characters in the book, with Prudence coming across as a fun protagonist. The locals at Wellende have unique features that bring their activities to life, almost, but not quite, making me gain an interest in fox hunting. Personally, I find fox hunting repulsive, but this book made me gain an empathy, if not appreciation, for the hunt. I also really loved getting to see 1931 Cambridge, with the students rushing to and fro and the professors discussing their research and teaching.
One complaint I have is the way The Incredible Crime mirrors Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew in the life of Prudence. The 30- something single woman opens as a bold, independent woman who refuses to be tied down. Then Dr. Temple falls in love with her and decides to tame her, just as Petruchio works to break Katherina in Shakespeare’s play. This refusal to accept Prudence for whom she is disturbs me as not true love, which should be based upon acceptance of the individual. However, this reflects the reality of 1930s’ gender roles that I frankly am soi glad to have escaped.
When I take into account that The Incredible Crime was not written for my 21st century feminist and animal- loving sensibilities but rather for the people of 1931, I can appreciate the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the plot and the way it kept me guessing. Humorously, Prudence reads a quote to Dr. Temple, which he inquires the source. Prudence responds that it was written by the daughter of a bishop 100 years earlier, which Kirsten T. Saxon points out in the introduction is a reference to Jane Austen, the author of the quote. This is but one illustration of the wit embedded in this book. I appreciated my time reading this book and hope to find more books by Austen-Leigh on audio. I give this book four stars.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free for review purposes, but that had no influence on the content of my review.
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