cover image Miss Austen Investigates: The Hapless Milliner

Miss Austen Investigates: The Hapless Milliner

Jessica Bull. Union Square, $18.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-4549-5180-3

A 20-year-old Jane Austen unexpectedly becomes an amateur sleuth to clear her brother’s name in Bull’s imaginative debut and series launch. Budding novelist Jane attends a ball at the opulent home of Lord John Harcourt, where she expects dashing Irishman Tom Lefroy to offer her his hand in marriage. Before Lefroy can bend a knee, however, one of Harcourt’s housemaids finds the body of a young woman in the laundry closet, and the festivities come to a halt. Jane recognizes the victim as Madame Renault, a milliner who’d sold her a hat a few days earlier. The expensive necklace Renault was wearing before her death is missing from her corpse, so the local magistrate surmises that vagabonds used the ball as cover to steal Madame Renault’s necklace and leave her for dead. When the jewelry turns up in the pocket of Jane’s nonverbal older brother Georgie, he’s swiftly arrested and charged with theft and murder. With Georgie unable to defend himself and Jane convinced of his innocence, she enlists the help of her close-knit family to find the killer before her brother is hanged. Bull’s Jane is an endearingly clumsy detective, equal parts clever and impulsive, and the investigation contains the kind of high stakes that similar breezy historicals often lack. This series seems destined for a long run. (Feb.)