Being the 9th Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron. Wowee! I have learned more about London society in the early 19th century than I expected in this installment in the series.

It is nearly 2 years since the Austen ladies have moved to Chawton. Jane has left Chawton for London to stay with her brother Henry and his wife Eliza, the Comtesse de Feuillide, while her book (newly named Sense and Sensibility) is being printed. She is there to be closer to the publisher in order to edit pages as they are printed. It is quite a task to take longhand prose and change it to printed word. She expects the whole process to take about a month. Her stay coincides with the London Season, a season in springtime for the gentry to see and be seen in the very fashionable city of London. Young ladies arrive from their country estates for their “coming out” during this time. It is a time of intense socialization amongst the ton (the wealthy class).

Amidst the soap opera drama this season unfailingly brings about, murder most foul is committed. Jane is soon to quit London and head back to the simplicity of Chawton. The death is ruled a suicide, but not before the press smears the name of a prominent political figure, the very real Lord Charles Castlereagh. The body of the beauty is laid upon his doorstep. Although the death is ruled suicide, Jane and Eliza are accused of perpetrating the deed owing to events that imply their involvement. Lord Castlereagh hires a runner (bondsman) to seek out the two and discover their connection, pin the murder on them and clear his name. Jane, ever the negotiator, convinces the runner to allow herself and Eliza to remain free if she can produce the real murderer in a week’s time. He grants Jane the time, though not out of compassion. His goal is simply to supply a plausible murderer and restore Lord Castlereagh’s character.

Jane’s investigation takes her throughout some of the more interesting sites of 19th century London. Apparently, men of means not only flaunted their wealth and power through liaisons with beautiful young women (some barely women and certainly not by today’s standards), but were expected to do so. The young women did all they could to secure a man of fortune and to have “carte blanche”, to be “kept,” as a mistress. Her prosperous beau would give her a home, a wardrobe, servants, anything she desired in exchange for the satisfaction of his physical wants. These “ladies” have many nicknames, one of which is “barque of frailty.” One young woman in particular gains the attentions of Jane as an object of suspicion.

Lord Harold, although missed (not just by Jane mind you. What a great character!), does continue to play a role in the mysteries that are drawn to Jane as a moth to the flame (poor Jane. Nowhere can she rest without a murder being committed!). Lord Harold’s associations of the past are links Jane puts to good use as she works to save herself and Eliza from the hangman’s noose. We meet Lord Hastings, a gentleman who figured prominently during Lord Harold’s time away from England as a young man. Hastings holds an important bit of the puzzle. Jane, sly as she is, expertly retrieves the fragment.

As she has throughout, Ms. Barron keeps me guessing. Just when it seems I have it all figured out, she leads me down another route to the real and logical conclusion. I will be sad when we reach the end of Jane’s detecting days.


Being the 8th Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron. We parted from Jane and family in early November 1808 and now find them once again moved and it is early June 1809. Edward Austen has given them a free-hold cottage in Chawton, Hampshire, part of his estate. In general, the people of Chawton are not altogether welcoming (one even lays claim to be the “true heir” to the Knight family in contest to Edward’s inheritance), but Jane, Cassandra and their mother pay no mind. The cottage formerly housed the town bailiff and his wife. Shortly after the passing of the bailiff, Edward “evicted” the man’s wife, instigating feelings of less than good will toward the Austen family. The coldness directed toward the Austens fails to dissuade the family from settling into their new country life.

Not all neighbours are unneighbourly. The Proutings and Middletons welcome the Austens warmly to Chawton. Mr. Prouting proves himself to be invaluable once the murder victim of this installment is discovered. As the magistrate of the village, it is he who works in conjunction with Jane to find the murderer. And although Lord Harold is no longer physically amongst the living, his presence strongly figures and is key to the motive.

It turns out the Gentleman Rogue was in the habit of preserving all of his correspondence and writings. It is apparent from the coldness Jane receives (or hears about) that his personal papers are of more value to many of his relations, close friends and especially enemies of said persons than any monetary holdings Lord Harold left behind. Knowing Jane’s writing abilities (and his high regard for her mental gymnastics), Jane is the one to whom his papers are bequeathed. Jane is now in possession of a prize many want for themselves for fear of what the prize may reveal or to perhaps reveal the contents themselves. It is a prize worth murder. It is so valuable, a search for it is undertaken before the Austens even move into their new home with murder as the end result!

Through her uncanny ability to unravel the tangled mess of a murder mystery, Jane saves her family from a life of isolation in the village of Chawton. A simple quiet life for Jane and family is in store.

In this installment, Ms. Barron employs a device previously used in JANE AND THE STILLROOM MAID. Excerpts from the "Stillroom Book" concluded most chapters. This time around, we are given glimpses into Lord Harold’s life as a younger man in the letters to his mother (as a school boy) and later in life in letters to his close associates (we even learn of a scandal of a personal nature). Through the letters, some holes are filled in. These letters give more depth to the character that is Lord Harold Trowbridge.

Ms. Barron has succeeded once again in keeping her audience enraptured.


Being the 7th Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron. Jane, Cassandra and Mrs. Austen have settled into their new home in Castle Square, Southampton. It is October 1808 and much has happened since we last read of Jane: Frank and Mary have moved to Portsmouth and no longer live in the apartments at Castle Square; Jane’s beloved sister, Elizabeth, wife to Edward (Neddie) has died as a result of the birth of child number 11; and the Dowager Duchess of Wilborough, Lord Harold’s mother has also passed. Jane, although an aging spinster, has much to fill her time and heart.

To add to her worries, Lord Harold, always the Gentleman Rogue, reappears after 2 years (yeah!). The passage of time has not dampened the suppressed affection between the two. The subtle hints and insinuations Jane and Lord Harold pass back and forth elicit sighs and a desire to hear the two speak forthrightly with each other (regarding their feelings, of course!). But alas, propriety and social boundaries continue to bar the would-be couple from declaring “l’amour.” More importantly, the effect, should the two submit, would be disastrous to their partnership. A marital alliance would alter Jane’s social duties and quite possibly the rapport Jane and Lord Harold (and the reader) enjoy now. So, it is better for things to remain as they are.

The war with Buonaparte continues as does Lord Harold’s service to his country. He is back in England for his mother’s funeral. Enroute to London, he stops in Southampton to keep an eye on a possible traitor to the Crown, one Mrs. Sophia Challoner. The Gentleman Rogue had fallen to her charms in Oporto, Portugal. He believes to have witnessed in her actions, a treasonous motive. Sophia left Oporto, and settled herself at Netley Lodge, her late husband’s home. Upon his undercover arrival to Southampton, Lord Harold enlists Jane to spy on Mrs. Challoner as he is known to her. He fears Mrs. Challoner may inflict serious harm to the British cause in the war against Buonaparte. Needless to say, Jane accepts. What a diversion for a dowdy spinster such as Jane!

Lord Harold has brought along with him a new valet acquired while gallivanting around the Iberian Peninsula (okay, not just gallivanting, but reports that head back to England surely imply as much!). Orlando is a man whom Lord Harold felt was wrongly sentenced to hang by the French government of Oporto. He was accused of stealing bread. Orlando serves Lord Harold out of gratitude for the saving of his life and appears to be more than ably suited to the task of serving L.H. as more than just a man-servant.

Events begin to explode soon after the arrival of Lord Harold and Sophia Challoner, literally. A 74 (a third rate ship carrying 74 guns) under construction at the dockyard is set afire. It was nearly complete after 3 years of building. The shipwright is soon discovered with his throat slit. The investigation begins. Is there a link between Mrs. Challoner and her associates’ suspicious behavior? Or is there another behind the dastardly deed?

This is my favorite installment in the Jane Austen Mysteries thus far. Jane and Lord Harold’s understanding between each other deepens. Very mysterious and peculiarly behaving characters and enigmatic events keep the pages turning. The culprit is exposed in the end with very tragic results. I am not generally one to re-read a book, but this may be one.