Midnight in Austenland, by Shannon Hale is a sequel of sorts to her bestseller Austenland which I read and reviewed last month. While the first book had overtones of Pride and Prejudice as Jane Hayes tried to figure out the haughty Mr. Nobley, this book plays up aspects of Mansfield Park with a doormat heroine and a staged theatrical and Northanger Abbey with a gothic mystery and a suspected murder. Charlotte Kinder is a sweet and intelligent thirty-something-year-old whose husband has just left her for another woman. Depressed and alone, Charlotte discovers and devours Jane Austen’s books. Thanks to her on-line landscaping business, Charlotte is possessed of limitless wealth. She decides to take a trip to England and visit Pembrook Park, a sort of theme park for wealthy women interested in role-playing characters from the Regency period.
Having already read the first novel, I found that the novelty of Austenland lost a little bit of its luster for me. Charlotte goes through the same experience of finding romance as Jane Hayes did in the first book, being torn between two different actors in the cast, one of whom loves her truly, and one of whom is only pretending. Hale mixes up the plot a little by putting Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the proprietress, in financial distress. Pembrook Park is in danger of shutting down, and someone there, it seems, is ready to kill to stop that from happening. As mysteries go, the clues to the murder were poorly contrived. In one dramatic scene, Charlotte catches the murderer hiding the keys to the victim’s BMW inside a vase. I found it extremely strange that he would still have the keys after submerging the car and the body in the estate’s pond.
Overall, Midnight in Austenland was a bit of a disappointment to me. If I hadn’t been running short on library books, I might not have taken the time to finish it.