Happy Monday! This weeks First in Series is Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor (A Jane Austen Mystery) by Stephanie Barron First released in 1996
If Jane Austen had turned her formidable wit and powers of observation to sleuthing before establishing herself as the major literary figure we know and love, then surely she would have been every inch the detective that Stephanie Barron has created in this delectable debut.
"I would rather spend an hour among the notorious than two minutes with the dull." To Jane Austen’s surprise, her visit to the snowy Hertfordshire estate of young and beautiful Isobel Payne, Countess of Scargrave, will be far from dull. She has scarcely arrived when the Earl – a gentleman of mature years – is felled by a mysterious ailment too agonizing and violet to credit to a fondness for claret and pudding. Scargrave’s death seems a cruel blow of fate for Isobel, married but three months. 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 adultery – and murder.
Desperately afraid that the letter will expose her and Viscount Fitzroy Payne, for whom she bears a secret tendresse, to the worst sort of scandal, Isobel begs her friend Jane for help. Which is how Jane finds herself embroiled in an investigation that hinges on the motives of Scargrave Manor’s guests:
LORD FITZROY PAYNE – Inscrutable and strikingly handsome, Fitzroy is also heavily in debt. Did he wager his fortune on a quick succession to the earldom?
MR. GEORGE HEARST – Payne’s graveyard-faced cousin is bound for Holy Orders, but he may have been disappointed by his deceased uncle in a matter more intimate than ecclesiastic.
LIEUTENANT TOM HEARST – George’s brother and penniless scapegrace with unruly curls and a satiric eye, his gallantries beguile even the cool-headed Miss Austen.
LORD HAROLD TROWBRIDGE – Disliked for his haughty arrogance and cunning manner, he is an unwelcome guest who inspires great fear in Isobel. Why, wonders Jane, does he so covet Isobel’s heritage, her West Indian lands?
THE DELAHOUSSAYE LADIES – Isobel’s aunt HORTENSE is out to make a match between Lord Fitzroy Payne and her daughter FANNY, a rich miss with yellow hair and an expanse of exposed bosom. Elegant, impertinent, snobbish – and sadly lacking in sense – Fanny prefers the dashing lieutenant.
Still, Jane is troubled by memories of the Earl’s tragic demise. And when the menacing letter writer is found bloodily dispatched, in circumstances that overwhelmingly incriminate Isobel and Lord Payne, Jane knows that there is no time to waste in discovering the truth. A missing locket, a monogrammed handkerchief, an ancestral ghost, and the deadly fruit of a tropical tree are among the markers of a trail that will lead all the way to the House of Lords and Newgate Prison -– and may well place Jane’s own person in gravest jeopardy.
With her lively mind and acerbic tongue, Jane Austen is a sleuth to the manner born, and her first case, The Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, is stylishly sophisticated, devilishly intricate, and marvelously entertaining.
Stephanie Barron is a graduate of Princeton and Stanford, where she studied history. She is perhaps best known for the critically-acclaimed Jane Austen Mystery Series, in which the intrepid and witty author of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE details her secret detective career in Regency England. JANE AND THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS, the twelfth Austen mystery, is forthcoming from Soho October 28, 2014. A former intelligence analyst for the CIA, Stephanie--who also writes under the name Francine Mathews--drew on her experience in the field of espionage for such novels as JACK 1939, which The New Yorker described as "the most deliciously high-concept thriller imaginable." She lives and works in Denver, CO.
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