Jane and the Stillroom Maid: Being the Fifth Jane Austen Mystery

Stephanie Barron, Author Bantam $22.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-553-10734-0
Jane Austen as sleuth continues to delight in her latest adventure (after Jane and the Genius of the Place), which sheds new light on the author's travels in 1806. While enjoying a ramble in the Derbyshire hills near Bakewell (a town Eliza Bennett visits in Pride and Prejudice), Jane discovers the mutilated body of a young man. Jane's suspicions are roused when her escort, Mr. George Hemming, prefers to remove the unidentified corpse to Buxton, rather than Bakewell, and they increase when the body proves to be that of a woman dressed in men's clothing. Moreover, the corpse is identified as Tess Arnold, a servant at one of the area's great houses, whom Mr. Hemming should have recognized. As the compounder of stillroom remedies, Tess had a reputation as a healer, until accused of witchcraft. Rumors of ritual murder by Freemasons--who include most of the neighboring gentry--excite the local populace and jeopardize the investigation of the justice of the peace, himself a Mason. When Mr. Hemming disappears before the inquest, Jane and the justice turn for help to Lord Harold Trowbridge, a guest at the nearby ducal house of Chatsworth. Barron catches Austen's tone amazingly well. Details of early 19th-century country life of all classes ring true, while the story line is clear, yet full of surprises. The ""editor's notes"" that punctuate the text and old cures for various ills that open each chapter add to the charm. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
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