A Review of Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron

Cover ImageAuthor Stephanie Barron’s friends, the Westmorelands of Maryland, find a trunk of letters and journals during a renovation of their estate.  One rainy Saturday, Barron and the Westmorelands begin sifting through all the paperwork, thinking it’s old family documents.  To their surprise it’s journals and letters left behind by the Westmorlands’s distant relative Jane Austen!!  These letters and journals are supposedly the pieces of the puzzle that is Austen’s life post 1801.  It is this fictitious “editor’s note” that sets the tone for Barron’s charming series about a sleuthing Jane Austen. 
Scargrave Manor, the first in the Jane Austen mystery series, follows Jane on a trip to Scargrave Manor to visit her newly married friend Isobel Payne.  During Jane’s residency at the manor, a ball is thrown to celebrate the nuptials between Isobel and new husband Frederick, Earl of Scargrave.  It is during the ball that you are introduced to a slew of characters that one can guess have such a lasting effect on Jane that she chose to immortalize their characterizations in her own novels.  Shortly after the Earl toasts his new bride and their guests he begins experiencing pain that unfortunately leads to his untimely end.  Thinking it was just a flare up of his stomach dyspepsia gone awry they begin making arrangements for the Earl’s funeral.  Isobel soon comes to Jane’s room with a mysterious note she received which threatens to go public with her infidelity to the Earl and her part in his murder!

It may plese you to think that you are free of the soupcon, milady, you and the tall lord who is so silent and who looks thru me; but the hanging, it is too good for you.  I must keep myself by the side of my Saviour, and no one is safe in your company; and so I have gone this morning and you shanll not find me out ware.  The next leter, it will go to the good Sir William; and then we will see what becomes of those who kill. 

Jane quickly figures out that the note is written by Marguerite, a servant, due to the crude spelling and language.  Jane promises Isobel that she will do everything she can to prove Isobel’s innocence and bring the real killer to justice.  With a house filled with suspects and more murders, it’s up to Jane to figure out the real culprit and motive.

The first time I read this book I didn’t see the little note that the “editor’s note” was really fictitious and I read almost half the book thinking that it really was based on Jane’s lost journals.  (HAHA you can all laugh at me)  This series is one of the most creative Austen fan fiction junctures that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.  Barron is truly fantastic at keeping true to Austen’s writing style.  Her writing flows with such eloquence and beauty, it’s hard not to be drawn into the story.

Barron’s characters are remarkably layered.  Just when you think you’ve figured out whodunnit a character begins showing another layer.  Barron writes such a controlled story you really are kept guessing as to who the murderer is until the final pages of the book.  These are the types of mystery books that I love reading;  intelligent ones that are meant to keep you searching for clues and connections the entire time. 

There are now 11 books in the series and I cannot wait to gobble them all up. 

4 out of 5 Stars

This is my first completed review for the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Reading Challenge  

This is my second completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Random House (2008)
Paperback 304 pages
ISBN: 9780553385618
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