JANE AND THE PRISONER OF WOOL HOUSE by Stephanie Barron
BEING THE SIXTH JANE AUSTEN MYSTERY
Bantam Books, December 2001
In 1807, novelist Jane Austen is in Southampton with her brother Frank as he attempts to secure himself a ship. When one of his friends and fellow officers in the British navy is accused of a particularly foul murder, Frank flounders, certain of his friend's innocence yet unable to determine a plan of action. Fortunately for Frank, and for Frank's friend, Jane is only too willing to take on the mystery. Before long there are suspects for a frame and dead bodies, all in the context of proper Jane Austen manners (readers unfamiliar with Jane Austen's works can find free downloads of many of her excellent novels by following this link).
Author Stephanie Barron (see also our other reviews of novels by this author) does an excellent job describing England at war with Napoleon, on the verge of the industrial age, and in the transition to the modern world. Manners, position in society, and inherited wealth still play major roles, and marrying the right man is the ultimate goal for the proper woman. Barron is obviously sympathetic with her heroine, a novelist whose personal life is far from ideal, while not attempting to give Austen unduly modern attitudes.
Mixed in with the pleasurable historical view and literary references, Barron manages to deliver an exciting mystery as well. With a prisoner of war camp, a dramatic rescue at sea, and plenty of evil and simply naughty red herrings on the scene, Austen has all she can do to keep her senses and sensibilities about her and help prevent a terrible injustice. JANE AND THE PRISONER OF WOOL HOUSE is a lot of fun.
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