Disclaimer: I received this ebook for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.
I admire Jane Austen’s books, but confess I’m not someone who has read them over and over and over again and it’s been a good long time since I’ve read them at all. I haven’t been caught up in the recent wave of Austen fan fiction, although I did read Longbourn by Jo Baker because the premise caught my attention. Now, another Austen book has tempted me.
First Impressions by Charlie Lovett is not a book that revisits Austen’s plots and/or characters. It’s a literary mystery/thriller that jumps between Austen’s life and the present day.
In current day England, Sophie Collingwood, a recent Oxford graduate, Jane Austen fan, and all-round bibliophile, is struggling to decide what to do with her life. She’s hoping for some advice from her beloved Uncle Bertram, whose love of books and passion for collecting has inspired her own. However, she receives the horrifying news that he has fallen down his stairs and broken his neck. He’s dead.
Sophie cannot believe it was an accident.
Sophie inherits her uncle’s London flat. Unfortunately, his books are all sold to settle debts. Sophie finds a job at a rare book shop and begins her new life. This includes a friendship with an American man (just passing through, unfortunately) and then a romance of sorts with a handsome, sexy, Englishman who came to the shop looking for a very obscure old book by Richard Mansfield!! Sophie had never heard of it, but promises to look for it. Shortly afterward, a second request comes for the same book, over the phone, from a much more aggressive client.
The novel weaves Jane’s life in and out through the mystery that Sophie must unravel. Was her uncle’s death an accident or not? What connection does it have to this mysterious book? Why are these two men searching for it? Can she trust her new boyfriend? Her friend?
Usually in novels with contemporary stories interwoven with historical novels I find myself much more interested in the historical part. First Impressions is an exception. Jane’s story provides necessary backstory, but it was fairly dry. Sophie’s dilemma carried the novel. Swept away by her own first impressions, Sophie follows her heart as she chases down clues. It makes for exciting reading. Not only is Sophie’s life at stake, but the reputation of her literary hero. The book races to its conclusion and once caught up, I couldn’t put it down.