This book is number 9 in a series featuring Jane Austen as an amateur sleuth in regency England. The books are presented under the guise of being the formerly lost journals that Jane Austen kept during life. I really enjoy this series. Stephanie Barron is quite adept at producing Jane Austen like prose – rarely overdoing it and striking the same wry tone. And I have to admit that I am almost more fond of Jane Austen than I am of her books and the Jane presented in this series is wonderful and seems not at all an unlikely sleuth. It is the perfect role to display Jane’s proposed intelligence, perceptiveness, bravery and quick-wittedness – all of which I can believe of the author – though I think Stephanie Barron does make her a good bit more liberal minded about some things than she likely was in reality.
This particular volume takes place in 1811 and Jane is staying with her brother Henry and sister-in-law Eliza at their home in London. She is helping to oversee the publication of her first novel “Sense and Sensibility”. The mystery occurs when a semi-disgraced Russian princess who has been circulating in English society is found dead with her throat slit lying on the front steps of a rather prominent politician and nobleman, Lord Castlereagh. Suicide is presumed and is the verdict from the magistrate’s court. Jane suspects differently and that suspicion is made important when a Bow Street Runner under the employ of Castlereagh settles on Jane and Eliza as potential murderers.
This was one of the weaker volumes in this series. The circumstances leading Jane and Eliza to be suspects and having 1 week to clear their name is rather contrived. I cottoned on to the murderer halfway through the book as well and bordered on getting annoyed that Jane wasn’t picking up on it. Another small complaint, the journal format is really only adhered to by having dates at the top of each chapter, otherwise the flow of the writing is not at all structured as journal entries. Finally this volume was a little slow and didn’t have nearly the page-turner qualities of many of the previous books. For me I think this is due to the absence of Lord Harold Trowbridge, Jane’s Gentleman Rogue, whom Stephanie Barron killed off two books ago. I personally think this was a mistake as he added an intriguing and enigmatic character to the novels and who broadened the scope of the plots, as he was a large figure in both the nobility and international politics. He also added no small amount of romance to the books and Jane’s life.
All that being said I still rather enjoyed this book which gave me as the rest of them did a feeling of hanging out with Jane Austen and getting a deeper look at her life no matter how fictional it may be! I look forward to Stephanie Barron’s next installment.