Review: The Vanisher Variations, a Jewish Regency mystery mostly set in Brighton

The Vanisher Variations is definitely one of the Libi Astaire Jewish Regencies that stands out in the series for well-constructed plot, satisfyingness of the mystery’s solution, representation of diversity, and even just how much fun I had reading it.

At the center is a gentile foreigner, Lady Lennox, who married into the English gentry and who the UK Jewish community has been put in a position to protect. From her husband? From someone else? Unraveling what’s really going on takes the cooperation of several of the varied and diverse Jewish cast. Each of the main characters has a distinctive voice, from the imaginative teenage girl (who I will persist on ‘shipping with her female best friend even if only to amuse myself–there’s a whole paragraph on how pretty she thinks she is!) to the eccentric devil-may-care young pickpocket to the middle-aged mother and chef to the world-weary wealthy widower.

There’s other representation as well: the historical figure of an Indian man who converted from Islam to Christianity to marry an Englishwoman and open a restorative bath cure in Brighton is one of the characters in the book, although the author reveals in a postnote that her timing is slightly off for the month and year of her chosen setting. And an important character is revealed to have plot-relevant PTSD from the Napoleonic Wars, and although I haven’t the experience to speak first-hand on this, as an outsider it seemed like a sympathetic and three-dimensional treatment. I will warn the audience that chapter 27 may be triggering and if you’re super sensitive to war crimes that’s the one to read carefully, as it has a completely different feel from the rest of the book (which is relatively light-hearted as these books are basically cozies.) I will say that there is discussion of an assault averted, though, if that makes a difference in your reading choices.

For the most part, it’s comforting escapism in which Jewish readers can rest reassured that we have our parts to play as protagonists of costume drama just like gentiles do, and gentile readers are safe with subtle explanations for cultural details they may not already know. We bat away microaggressions but aren’t fighting for our lives, and the setting for most of the book is a vividly portrayed seaside resort town. You’ll practically hear the waves and seagulls as you read.

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About Shira

Queer Jewish feminist author
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