Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor (Jane Austen Series #1)

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Overview

"I would rather spend an hour among the notorious than two minutes with the dull." To Jane Austen's surprise, her visit to the snowy Hertfordshire estate of young and beautiful Isobel Payne, Countess of Scargrave, will be far from dull. She has scarcely arrived when the Earl - a gentleman of mature years - is felled by a mysterious ailment too agonizing and violent to credit to a fondness for claret and pudding. Scargrave's death seems a cruel blow of fate for Isobel, married but three months. Yet the bereaved widow soon finds that it's only the
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Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor (Jane Austen Series #1)

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Overview

"I would rather spend an hour among the notorious than two minutes with the dull." To Jane Austen's surprise, her visit to the snowy Hertfordshire estate of young and beautiful Isobel Payne, Countess of Scargrave, will be far from dull. She has scarcely arrived when the Earl - a gentleman of mature years - is felled by a mysterious ailment too agonizing and violent to credit to a fondness for claret and pudding. Scargrave's death seems a cruel blow of fate for Isobel, married but three months. 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 and Viscount Fitzroy Payne, for whom she bears a secret tendresse, to the worst sort of scandal, Isobel begs her friend Jane for help. Which is how Jane finds herself embroiled in an investigation that hinges on the motives of Scargrave Manor's guests. Still, Jane is troubled by memories of the Earl's tragic demise. And when the menacing letter writer is found bloodily dispatched, in circumstances that overwhelmingly incriminate Isobel and Lord Payne, Jane knows that there is no time to waste in discovering the truth. A missing locket, a monogrammed handkerchief, an ancestral ghost, and the deadly fruit of a tropical tree are among the markers of a trail that will lead all the way to the House of Lords and Newgate Prison - and may well place Jane's own person in the gravest jeopardy.

Readers love her as an author, now they'll embrace her as the sleuth in Stephanie Barron's new mysteries. Not long after Jane Austen arrives at the estate of her friend, the Countess of Scargrave, her elderly husband, the Earl, succumbs to a mysterious illness. The widow then becomes the target of some sinister accusations. Jane attempts to get to the bottom of this complex puzzle, putting herself in the gravest jeopardy as she follows a trail of clues that leads all the way to the House of Lords.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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)
Library Journal
Any fan of Jane Austen will enjoy her first sleuthing adventure. This charming narrative recounts Jane's visit to the home of her dear friend Isobel, Countess of Scargrave. Isobel and her 48-year-old husband, the earl, host a ball after returning from a three-month honeymoon. In attendance are the earl's three nephews, Isobel's vacuous relatives from Barbados, a greedy lord who wants their island estates, and assorted others. On the night of the ball, the earl dies from an apparent poisoning. As vicious rumors begin to circulate, Jane becomes detective. Stylized prose, delicious wit, authentic period manners, and enlightening footnotes make this book a treasure.
From the Publisher
"There's plenty to enjoy in this crime-solving side of Jane....[She] is as worthy a detective as Columbo." —USA Today

"Happily succeeds on all levels: a robust tale of manners and mayhem that faithfully reproduces the Austen style—and engrosses to the finish." —Kirkus Reviews

"Splendid fun!" —Star Tribune, Minneapolis

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553385618
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/20/2008
  • Series: Jane Austen Series , #1
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 435,366
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephanie Barron
Stephanie Barron is the author of eight previous Jane Austen mysteries. She lives in Colorado, where she is at work on the next Jane Austen mystery.
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Read an Excerpt

Journal entry, 11 December 1802, written in the small hours

"What do you make of it, Jane?" The Countess of Scargrave asked. Her fingers gripped my elbow painfully.

I gazed at the recumbent form of her husband with dismay. Frederick, Lord Scargrave, was decidedly unwell--so unwell that I had been called to his bedside an hour before dawn, an indiscretion the Earl would never have allowed while possessed of his senses. I pulled the collar of my dressing gown closer about my neck and placed my free hand over the Countess's.

"I believe that your husband is dying, Isobel," I told her.

Her fingers moved convulsively under my own, and then were still. "Dying. Were I to hear it so declared a thousand times, I still should not believe it possible."

I surveyed my friend with silent pity, uncertain how to answer such distress. The transformation wrought upon her husband's agonized countenance was indeed extraordinary--and had required but a few hours to effect. That very evening, the Earl had led his Countess down the dance in Scargrave's ballroom, revelling in the midst of a company come to toast the fortunes of them both. Despite his eight-and-forty years, he shone as a man blessed with second youth, elegant and lively, the very charm of his race crying out from every limb. And tho' he had complained of dyspepsia before, this illness came upon him of a sudden--and with a violence one may hardly credit to an overfondness for claret and pudding.

"Had he taken aught to eat or drink in the past few hours?" I asked.

My friend shook her head. "Only a milk toddy and some sweetmeats the maid brought to him upon retiring. But I do not believe hehad long consumed them before the sickness laid him prostrate."

The stench of the Earl's illness rose from the fouled sheets the maids would not change for fear of paining him further. His breath was caught thick within his throat, and his strength worn down by dizzyness and a violence of puking such as one usually sees under the influence of a purgative. His eyes were rolled back in drowsy oblivion, his skin was pallid, and his features were bloated. It was a trial merely to observe such suffering; to endure it must have been fearsome.

As I watched with Isobel by his bedside, awaiting the doctor summoned in haste from London, the Earl gave forth a great moan, rose up shuddering from his sheets, and clutched his wife's hand. "Blackguards!" his shattered voice cried. "They would take me from within!" Then he fell back insensible upon his bed, and spoke no more.

Isobel was all efficiency; a compress she had in a moment, and ministered to her troubled lord, and the violence of feeling that had animated his poor body but an instant before, troubled him not again.

I am no stranger to death--I have sat watch over too many unlovely ends by the side of my clergyman father, who believes the company of a woman necessary to sustain him in the most mortal hours of his ministry--but this was a sort of dying I had never witnessed.

A chill draught wafted through the chamber door from the great hall below. I turned my head swiftly, in hope of the doctor, and saw only Marguerite, Isobel's maid.

"Milady," the Creole girl whispered, her eyes stealing from her mistress's face to the more dreadful one of the Earl, "the doctor is come." Her countenance was pale and frightened, and as I watched, she made the Papist sign of the cross hurriedly at her brow, and ducked back through the doorway.

I cannot find it in me to scold the maid for such foolishness. She is a simple girl from Isobel's native Barbadoes, who accompanied her mistress upon Isobel's removal to England two years ago. Marguerite has sorely missed her sleep tonight--it was she who fetched me hastily before dawn to the Countess's side. But even I, a child of cold-blooded England less susceptible to horrified fancy, must confess to sleeplessness these several hours past. For the Earl has uttered such moans and cries that none may shut out his agony, and all within Scargrave's walls are robbed of peace this night.

"Lady Scargrave," the physician said, breaking into my thoughts. He clicked his heels together and bowed in Isobel's direction. A young man, with all his urgency upon his face.

"Dr. Pettigrew," the Countess replied faintly, her hand going to her throat, "thank God you are come."

How Isobel could bear it! Married but three months, and to lose a husband one has but lately acquired would seem the cruellest blow of Fate. Yet still she stood, composed and upright, and waited with the terrible fortitude of women for the result of so much misery.

Dr. Pettigrew glanced at me and nodded, brushing the snow from his greatcoat and handing it to Marguerite, who bobbed a frightened curtsey and ducked out of the chamber. As the physician hastened to the Earl's bedside, I strove to read his thoughts; but his eyes were hidden behind spectacles, and his mouth held firmly in a line, and I could divine nothing from his youthful countenance. He reached for the Earl's wrist, and poor Lord Scargrave moaned and tossed upon his pillow.

"Leave us now, my dear Jane," Isobel said, her hand cool upon my cheek; "I will come to you when I may."


1. A brief explanation of English titles and modes of address may be helpful to American readers, who lack Jane's easy familiarity with both. Isobel Collins married Frederick Payne, the Earl of Scargrave, and as such became the Countess of Scargrave. She would be addressed as Lady Scargrave, but because she is a commoner by birth, she would never be addressed as Lady Isobel; that would be a courtesy title conferred on the daughter of a peer. The Earl is usually addressed as Lord Scargrave, taking his name from his title, rather than as Lord Payne, his family name, which in this account denotes his heir Fitzroy, Viscount Payne. --Editor's note.
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Table of Contents

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Reading Group Guide

1. Jane Austen was born in 1775, on the eve of England’s war with the American colonies, and died in 1817, two years after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. Her life was in many ways defined by warfare. How might this have shaped Austen’s attitudes toward men? Toward women’s traditional roles?

2. In Barron’s novels, Jane Austen is regarded as a gentlewoman–a person of good birth and social standing–who unfortunately has no money. Her desire to write novels is partly motivated by a desire for financial independence and a life beyond the narrow domestic roles accorded to women in her day. Is this struggle different today?

3. The fictional Jane of this mystery series walks a fine line between knowledge of the broader world and its evils–murder, adultery, jealous, scheming, avarice, political treason–and a sharp awareness that a lady of her period was expected to know nothing of any of them. Is Jane a hypocrite? Is she unusual in her knowledge of the world? How does her compromise between experience and the limits of social convention surface in her fiction?

4. Lord Harold Trowbridge holds an immense attraction for Jane in these novels. What does he represent in her life–the desire for power? For deep emotional and physical experience? The desire to save him from himself? Or merely Jane’s yearning to be known for who she truly is? Is Jane more honest with Lord Harold that with others in her life?

5. Jane lavishes affection on her elder sister Cassandra. Is Cassandra worthy of it?

6. Jane’s involvement in the lives of others suggests the possibility that she a) an insufferable busybody; b) has too much time on her hands; or c) is extraordinarily perceptive about human nature–which allows her to map the motivations behind (occasionally criminal) actions. Discuss. Is Jane a perceptive person? Is this evident in her novels as well as her detective adventures?

7. In an era when women were expected to marry and have children, Jane did neither–publishing books instead. Was she a rebel? How did she make the best of a social fate she neither chose nor controlled? Which qualities make it more or less likely that she would enjoy the challenges of amateur detective?

8. Jane’s fictional women usually triumph by the power of their wits and the energy of their actions. Does this reflect Jane’s real life? Is it a hopeful view of existence? Do you think Jane was a content person? An ambitious one? A wise woman or a blind one?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 20 )
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  • Posted December 7, 2009

    Jane Austen lives in perpetuity

    I admit I was skeptical, but intriged by the audacity of Stephanie Barron.
    She won me over in short order. Jane Austen's style, thought processes, and linguistics came to life in Ms Barron's hand. Jane Austen as a sluth, the perfect characterization. The plots are naturally intriguing, with plenty of suspense, twists and turns to the end. I discovered phrases picked out of Miss Austen's actual writings. They were like old friends, so familiar and welcome. I really enjoy the summations. Well done!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2006

    From a Jane Austen fan

    This is the best book I have read in a long time!! It kept my interest until the end. A must read for any fan of Jane Austen.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 8, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Austen as a Sleuth? BRILLIANT!

    Author Stephanie Barron's friends, the Westmorelands of Maryland, find a trunk of letters and journals during a renovation of their estate. One rainy Saturday, Barron and the Westmorelands begin sifting through all the paperwork, thinking it's old family documents. To their surprise it's journals and letters left behind by the Westmorlands's distant relative Jane Austen!! These letters and journals are supposedly the pieces of the puzzle that is Austen's life post 1801. It is this fictitious "editor's note" that sets the tone for Barron's charming series about a sleuthing Jane Austen.

    Scargrave Manor, the first in the Jane Austen mystery series, follows Jane on a trip to Scargrave Manor to visit her newly married friend Isobel Payne. During Jane's residency at the manor, a ball is thrown to celebrate the nuptials between Isobel and new husband Frederick, Earl of Scargrave. It is during the ball that you are introduced to a slew of characters that one can guess have such a lasting effect on Jane that she chose to immortalize their characterizations in her own novels. Shortly after the Earl toasts his new bride and their guests he begins experiencing pain that unfortunately leads to his untimely end. Thinking it was just a flare up of his stomach dyspepsia gone awry they begin making arrangements for the Earl's funeral. Isobel soon comes to Jane's room with a mysterious note she received which threatens to go public with her infidelity to the Earl and her part in his murder!
    It may plese you to think that you are free of the soupcon, milady, you and the tall lord who is so silent and who looks thru me; but the hanging, it is too good for you. I must keep myself by the side of my Saviour, and no one is safe in your company; and so I have gone this morning and you shanll not find me out ware. The next leter, it will go to the good Sir William; and then we will see what becomes of those who kill.

    Jane quickly figures out that the note is written by Marguerite, a servant, due to the crude spelling and language. Jane promises Isobel that she will do everything she can to prove Isobel's innocence and bring the real killer to justice. With a house filled with suspects and more murders, it's up to Jane to figure out the real culprit and motive.

    The first time I read this book I didn't see the little note that the "editor's note" was really fictitious and I read almost half the book thinking that it really was based on Jane's lost journals. (HAHA you can all laugh at me) This series is one of the most creative Austen fan fiction junctures that I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Barron is truly fantastic at keeping true to Austen's writing style. Her writing flows with such eloquence and beauty, it's hard not to be drawn into the story.

    Barron's characters are remarkably layered. Just when you think you've figured out whodunnit a character begins showing another layer. Barron writes such a controlled story you really are kept guessing as to who the murderer is until the final pages of the book. These are the types of mystery books that I love reading; intelligent ones that are meant to keep you searching for clues and connections the entire time.

    There are now 11 books in the series and I cannot wait to gobble them all up.

    Kimberly (Reflections of a Book Addict)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2003

    Great premise for Jane Austen fans

    This book is a nice period piece and gives the true feel of a real Jane Austen novel. The characters and footnotes appealed to me as mush as the mystery itself.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2012

    recommend

    If you are a Jane Austen fan, you will enjoy this book told in her own words. She becomes involved in a murder trial as she tries to save her dear friend from sent to the stockade. It starts a bit slow, but picks up as you go. It is a great read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2011

    Amazing

    I am an avid reader, and I find this series of books amazing. Not only does each book keep you on the edge of your seat, but each book is historically accurate and so much fun to read! I am a huge fan of Jane Austen, and I really feel that the author captures what you would imagine her personality and thought process to be, beautifully! Also, I find the social interactions between the characters and Jane's commentary fascinating. Kudos to Stephanie Barron - WONDERFUL work!!

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