JANE AND THE STILLROOM MAID by Stephanie Barron
Being the Fifth Jane Austen Mystery
Bantam Books, August 2000
Jane Austen, author, is travelling with her cousin, mother, and sister, when she discovers a corpse. With a bullet in the forehead and tongue and organs removed, murder is obvious. Could it be, though, a ritualistic killing by the Freemasons? Jane is dubious. The Prince of Wales himself is a Freemason. When the body turns out to be that of a servant girl, the Stillroom Maid, dressed as a gentleman, the mystery only grows deeper. Somehow, Jane must involve herself in its solution assisted only by her longtime friend Lord Harold. If she doesn't get to the bottom of the mystery, innocent men are certain to hang.
Stephanie Barron (see also our other reviews of novels by this author) does an excellent job describing the countryside and the regency-era society in which Jane Austen found herself. Austen herself is of gentle background, but her family has only limited financial resources. Like many Austen heroines, Jane must make do with her intelligence and wit. The mystery too is convincingly portrayed and carried out. Austen is limited by the societal norms called out for a gentle woman, yet she must stretch these norms to the limit to solve the crime and prevent a terrible injustice. She does so without the anachronistic attitude too frequent in historical literature.
From the Stillroom Remedies that close each chapter to the comedy of manners that Austen often finds herself engaged in, to the romantic tension that exists between Austen and Lord Harold, to the mystery itself, Stephanie Barron has created a compelling novel.
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