Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor: Being the First Jane Austen Mystery

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor  - Stephanie Barron I'm a big fan of Jane Austen, but that caused me to bristle a bit at the start of this pastiche with every allusion or near quote. I'm generally not a fan of the professionally published Austen fanfic, since they just doesn't bear comparison to the original. However, I have greatly enjoyed Carrie Bebris' mysteries with Darcy and Elizabeth of Pride and Prejudice as sleuths--they're like spending time with old friends, and set within an entirely different genre, the comparisons don't feel so invidious, so I gave this a try. Purported to be a lost manuscript of Austen's journals and letters, Barron's novel tells of Austen's sleuthing of a murder mystery at Scargrave Manor, where she is spending the Christmas holidays at the invitation of the newly wed Countess, who is about to become suspected of her husband's murder. Told with a stab at Austenesque style (characters are often "all amazement" at developments) the novel comes complete with footnotes about the life and times of Jane Austen by the "editor." Disgruntled as I might have been at the beginning, I confess the author gradually won me over. The mystery kept me guessing and I was impressed with the obvious research brought to bear on Regency England, that took in everything from the economics, politics and fashion of the time to the intricacies of its legal process (at the time no presumption of innocence, no cross-examination by the defense) to details like suicides being buried at the crossroads with a stake through their heart. Eventually I got sucked into a diverting world and mystery for a few hours that went by all too quickly. I still prefer Bebris though, because when reading her mysteries I often let myself believe I was reading about Darcy and Lizzie--while Barron's Jane never really convinced me.