Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor by Stephanie Barron: Book Review

Mar 26, 2011 | 2011 Articles, Books & Tales, Every Other Book, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Terell Byrd

As we celebrate the 200th year since the publication of Jane Austen’s book Sense & Sensibility, we decided to share with KRL readers some events, groups and books with a Jane Austen connection.

The only sad ending in the work of Jane Austen is the author’s early demise. There were six books published in her lifetime and two after her death. It has left those of us who love her novels bereft. In recent years a revival of interest has inspired authors to write books that continue the stories of her remarkable characters. I am pleased to tell you that I have finally found a new fiction series to read that is not only in the style of Austen, it features the lady herself as the main character solving mysteries with her characteristic tart wit and vivacity.

I never tire of stories that begin with finding buried treasure – this one starts with the discovery of a cache of papers found during the renovation of a Georgian building in Baltimore. Precious enough to save, but forgotten with the passing of time, they were found in the base of a small building used for coal storage. ‘Stephanie Barron‘,(character not the author) a friend of the property owners, was consulted and recognized the fragile yellow pages for the delicate gold they were – previously unknown personal journals and letters of Jane Austen. It turns out that Jane Austen was a gifted sleuth. Contrary to the picture of a quiet dull provincial life painted by historians; she was often involved in intrigue, present at the onset of great scandals and even risked her own life in the pursuit of justice.

At the beginning of the novel, Jane goes to visit a recently married friend, Isobel Payne, Countess of Scargrave. Isobel has been back two weeks from a European bridal tour and her doting middle aged husband (the Earl of Scargrave) insists on a ball to show off his lovely young wife and to celebrate the couple’s happiness. During the ball the Earl is heard to argue with someone in the library and shortly after becomes ill. When the Earl dies before dawn gossip begins to circulate and the young widow as well as her husband’s heir, Lord Fitzroy Payne, become murder suspects.

Jane searches for the truth sifting through a surfeit of sinister guests and unsavory residents at the old country mansion. One of the old Earl’s nephews is angry because the Earl would not support him in his chosen career in the ministry and another is on leave from the army for killing a man in a duel. A ladies maid disappears and various people receive letters from her hinting at dastardly goings on. Lord Harold Trowbridge, an invited but unwelcome guest, is pressing Isobel to turn over her inheritance to him to pay her father’s debts. And amid the manor walls, lined with portraits of former residents, walks the high heeled cobweb covered ghost of a long deceased Payne who insists on nightly rambles after the current Earl dies.

A bit of gothic, a bit of cozy, a bit of danger, gorgeous bad men in romantic pursuit of our heroine, thoughtfully pursued clues and well-written red herrings in another place and time. What else could you wish for except a large carafe of your favorite warm beverage and a quiet corner to curl up in?

Learn more about the author on her website.


Click here to buy this book & support Indie bookstores!

Want even more Jane Austen fiction? Check out our article in this issue about Sharon Lathan’s books and the Fresno Area Regency England Fellowship.

Terrell is a member of the Fresno Chapter of Sisters In Crime, a mystery readers and writers group. To learn more about them and their meetings check out their event page here on KRL.

Terell Byrd is a native Fresnan, who was born, raised, & educated locally. She graduated from Fresno Pacific with a B.A. in Classical Studies & Psychology. In the course of a mad gypsy life, she has taken classes in Electrical Engineering, broken into bank vaults at night & worked as a Tax Examiner for the IRS. She now lives quietly, with more cats than she admits to, spending her free time doing accounting.

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