It looks like Jane Austen wasn’t the only one in her family who had a knack for writing — a mystery novel by a relative of Jane Austen will be reissued 80 years after its first printing. The granddaughter of Jane Austen’s nephew, Lois Austen-Leigh, originally published The Incredible Crime in 1931. Set in Cambridge, the novel describes a drug-smuggling mystery that’s been traced back to the prestigious university. The new edition is being edited and introduced by Kirsten Saxton, a professor of English at Mills College in Oakland, and a visiting fellow at Lucy Cavendish College in Cambridge.
Lest you think Austen-Leigh was some hack writer just trying to make a dime off of her connection to her famous historical relative, it turns out she actually had some talent. Saxton praises The Incredible Crime for its cast of quirky academic types, including “a cigarette-smoking brash young woman who can curse like a sailor, a Darcy-esque, as in rude and eventually adoring, academic love interest (which slightly raises my feminist hackles).”
At the time, however, the book's genre was seen as low-brow. A review in the Times Literary Supplement in 1931 said “the book is of a much higher order,” and stodgily suggested that “Miss Austen-Leigh might consider a more serious vein of writing.” Austen-Leigh apparently didn’t care too much for “more serious” writing, and ended up publishing three more mystery novels in the following seven years: The Haunted Farm (1932), Rude Justice (1936), and The Gobblecock Mystery (1938). Saxton says she would like to see the later novels reissued, particularly The Gobblecock Mystery (by the way, do yourself a favor and do not google “gobblecock”).
Either way, Austen-Leigh certainly sounds like the kind of woman this writer wouldn’t mind throwing a few back with. According to Saxton's research, she was apparently “delightful [and] zipped about town on her motorbike and claimed she wrote so the royalties would keep her in champagne.” Sounds like a woman ahead of her time.
The Incredible Crime will be published by the British Library as part of its Crime Classics series in October 2017.
Image: University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin/Wikimedia