Synopsis according to Goodreads:
“On a visit to the estate of her friend, the young and beautiful Isobel Payne, Countess of Scargrave, Jane bears witness to a tragedy. Isobel’s husband—a gentleman of mature years—is felled by a mysterious and agonizing ailment. The Earl’s death seems a cruel blow of fate for the newly married Isobel. Yet the bereaved widow soon finds that it’s only the beginning of her misfortune…as she receives a sinister missive accusing her and the Earl’s nephew of adultery—and murder. Desperately afraid that the letter will expose her to the worst sort of scandal, Isobel begs Jane for help. And Jane finds herself embroiled in a perilous investigation that will soon have her following a trail of clues that leads all the way to Newgate Prison and the House of Lords—a trail that may well place Jane’s own person in the gravest jeopardy.“
In honor of Austen in August, I read Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, a Regency-era murder mystery that sets Jane Austen herself as an amateur sleuth.
I was pleasantly surprised by how good this book was, both as a mystery novel (I had inklings of whodunit, but it truly kept me guessing until the last), and as an historical fiction. The premise is that this book is edited from a lost set of letters by Jane Austen, maintaining throughout that we’re truly seeing things from Austen’s perspective. The author includes educational footnotes about some Regency terms and legal restrictions, and I do love me some educational footnotes.
Overall, the narrative tone felt very Austen-esque to me, with Jane’s personality being something of a blend between Elizabeth Bennet and Fanny Price. She’s inquisitive, tenacious and highly logical/analytical. She’s also got zero patience for vanity, silliness, flirtatiousness and wastefulness. And the number of personalities that, in context of the book, “inform future characters” are highly entertaining. For instance, there’s a character she interacts with whose haughtiness and impeccable manners are very, very Mr. Darcy.
I greatly enjoyed both the tone and the mystery, and will be continuing the series. I highly recommend it for fans of Jane Austen, Regency historical fiction, good (especially historical) mystery novels, and strong female protagonists.