Saturday, January 15, 2011

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron


"On a visit to the estate of her friend the young and beautiful Isobel Payne, Countess of Scargrave, Jane bears witness to a tragedy. Isobel's husband --a gentleman of mature years--is felled by a mysterious and agonizing ailment. The Earl's death seems a cruel blow of fate for the newly married Isobel. Yet the bereaved widow soon finds that it's only the beginning of her misfortune...as she receives a sinister missive accusing her and the Earl's nephew of adultry--and murder. Desperately afraid that the letter will expose her to the worst sort of scandal, Isobel begs Jane for help. And Jane finds herself embroiled in a perilous investigation that will soon have her following a trail of clues that leads all the way to Newgate Prison and the House of Lords--a trail that may well place Jane's own person in the gravest jeopardy."
(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mystery series is a very clever and unique fictional portrayal of the beloved author as sleuth where she uses her keen observation skills and sharp intellect to examine the criminal mind and solve mysteries. The world learns of these previously unknown experiences when hidden boxes of Jane's journals which chronicle her detecting adventures are discovered during a renovation project of a distant relative's home in 1995. As the manuscripts are edited for publication, we learn of Jane's first experience with murder and mayhem in Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor.

The year is 1802 and Jane has just accepted and rejected the marriage proposal of Harris Biggs-Wither. During this difficult period, Austen receives an invitation from a friend, Isobel Payne, the Countess of Scargrave, to attend a wedding ball and spend Christmas at Scargrave Manor. Welcoming a diversion, Jane accepts the invitation to spend time with her friend and her new husband, only to find herself supporting Isobel as her husband, Frederick, Lord Scargrave, dies an agonizing death. Soon after the death, Isobel begins to receive mysterious letters accusing her of murdering her husband and branding her an adulteress. Desperate for help, Isobel turns to her strong and sensible friend, Jane. Examining the backgrounds and motives of a cast of characters associated with the newlyweds, Jane begins her quest to find out the truth about Lord Scargrave's death and determine who has evil plans that involve murder and deceit.

My impressions of this first mystery? A bit stilted and tedious at first, and it took a while to get into the rhythm and flow of the language, but it did eventually pick up the pace. I enjoyed the authentic details of the period and Barron's attention to historical accuracy. Footnotes are inserted throughout the "manuscript" to expand upon historical details and terms, and I found these very helpful. Fans of cozy mysteries and Jane enthusiasts will be entertained by Barron's portrayal of Austen as a detective while staying true to the Austen style and spirit.

This completes the first mystery for the Austenprose Being a Jane Austen Mystery Challenge.

3.5/5 stars

Title: Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor
Author: Stephanie Barron
Bantam Dell Publishers
1996
289 pages
Genre: historical mystery

2 comments:

Ruth said...

Great review! I'm happy to report that the series gets better and better. :)

Joanne said...

Hi, Ruth -- That's very good to know! I think it's fair to say that most first books in a series just set the stage for what is to come, and what follows is usually better and better as we get to really "know" the characters. I'm looking forward to reading the entire series. :)

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