cover image Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave

Stephanie Barron. Bantam Books, $19.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-553-10196-6

With this series opener, Barron catches the Jane Austen popularity wave with impeccable timing--but that may be the best that can be said of this debut. Purportedly editing Austen manuscripts found in an old Maryland estate, Barron recounts the suspicious death of the elderly Frederick Payne, Earl of Scargrave. Anonymous notes accuse Isobel, Austen's friend and Payne's young bride, and a ""grey-hared Lord"" of murdering the earl. Intensifying Isobel's misery is Lord Harold Trowbridge, who badgers the widow to sell him her estate in Barbados. Concerned for her friend and for Fitzroy Payne, the new earl who not-so-secretly loves Isobel, Austen undertakes snooping that leads her to a second corpse and leads Isobel and Fitzroy to trial before the House of Lords. As Austen explores a passel of suspects who are heavy-handedly cast as the originals for the characters in her novels, the reader is offered imitation scholarly footnotes. To be truly helpful, Barron might have better explained how Austen hears Big Ben, a bell cast some 40 years after her death. Austen as mystery writer is an appealing idea, but inadequately served here. Author tour. (May)