Jane and the Final Mystery
The final volume of the critically acclaimed mystery series featuring Jane Austen as amateur sleuth

March 1817: As winter turns to spring, Jane Austen’s health is in slow decline, and threatens to cease progress on her latest manuscript. But when her nephew Edward brings chilling news of a death at his former school, Winchester College, not even her debilitating ailment can keep Jane from seeking out the truth. Arthur Prendergast, a senior pupil at the prestigious all-boys’ boarding school, has been found dead in a culvert near the schoolgrounds—and in the pocket of his drenched waistcoat is an incriminating note penned by the young William Heathcote, the son of Jane’s dear friend Elizabeth. Winchester College is a world unto itself, with its own language and rites of passage, cruel hazing and dangerous pranks. Can Jane clear William’s name before her illness gets the better of her?
 
Over the course of fourteen previous novels in the critically acclaimed Being a Jane Austen Mystery series, Stephanie Barron has won the hearts of thousands of fans—crime fiction aficionados and Janeites alike—with her tricky plotting and breathtaking evocation of Austen’s voice. Now, she brings Jane’s final season—and final murder investigation—to brilliant, poignant life in this unforgettable conclusion.
"1142911287"
Jane and the Final Mystery
The final volume of the critically acclaimed mystery series featuring Jane Austen as amateur sleuth

March 1817: As winter turns to spring, Jane Austen’s health is in slow decline, and threatens to cease progress on her latest manuscript. But when her nephew Edward brings chilling news of a death at his former school, Winchester College, not even her debilitating ailment can keep Jane from seeking out the truth. Arthur Prendergast, a senior pupil at the prestigious all-boys’ boarding school, has been found dead in a culvert near the schoolgrounds—and in the pocket of his drenched waistcoat is an incriminating note penned by the young William Heathcote, the son of Jane’s dear friend Elizabeth. Winchester College is a world unto itself, with its own language and rites of passage, cruel hazing and dangerous pranks. Can Jane clear William’s name before her illness gets the better of her?
 
Over the course of fourteen previous novels in the critically acclaimed Being a Jane Austen Mystery series, Stephanie Barron has won the hearts of thousands of fans—crime fiction aficionados and Janeites alike—with her tricky plotting and breathtaking evocation of Austen’s voice. Now, she brings Jane’s final season—and final murder investigation—to brilliant, poignant life in this unforgettable conclusion.
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Jane and the Final Mystery

Jane and the Final Mystery

by Stephanie Barron
Jane and the Final Mystery

Jane and the Final Mystery

by Stephanie Barron

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$27.95 
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Overview

The final volume of the critically acclaimed mystery series featuring Jane Austen as amateur sleuth

March 1817: As winter turns to spring, Jane Austen’s health is in slow decline, and threatens to cease progress on her latest manuscript. But when her nephew Edward brings chilling news of a death at his former school, Winchester College, not even her debilitating ailment can keep Jane from seeking out the truth. Arthur Prendergast, a senior pupil at the prestigious all-boys’ boarding school, has been found dead in a culvert near the schoolgrounds—and in the pocket of his drenched waistcoat is an incriminating note penned by the young William Heathcote, the son of Jane’s dear friend Elizabeth. Winchester College is a world unto itself, with its own language and rites of passage, cruel hazing and dangerous pranks. Can Jane clear William’s name before her illness gets the better of her?
 
Over the course of fourteen previous novels in the critically acclaimed Being a Jane Austen Mystery series, Stephanie Barron has won the hearts of thousands of fans—crime fiction aficionados and Janeites alike—with her tricky plotting and breathtaking evocation of Austen’s voice. Now, she brings Jane’s final season—and final murder investigation—to brilliant, poignant life in this unforgettable conclusion.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781641295055
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 10/24/2023
Series: Being a Jane Austen Mystery , #15
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 293,046
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

About The Author
Stephanie Barron is a graduate of Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history. A former intelligence analyst at the CIA, she is the author of thirty novels, including the critically acclaimed Merry Folger series, which she writes under the name Francine Mathews. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Visit her online at www.stephaniebarron.com.

Read an Excerpt

PROLOGUE
The Solicitude of Old Friends
Monday, 27 January 1817
Chawton Cottage


Having endured over one-and-forty years on this earth, and observed much of human existence, I may state with confidence a peculiarity of our condition: one has only to be thinking of a person or event to conjure it immediately to life. A sporting relative mentions the winner of the St. Leger at Doncaster this past September (The Duchess, by Cardinal, out of Miss Nancy), and but a day and a half later one glimpses Mr. Sutherland’s aquatint engraving of the very same animal, displayed at the stationer’s in Alton. The Morning Gazette publishes an intriguing article on Sir Joseph Banks’s eucalypt, a plant of which one has never heard; the following week one’s niece announces she intends to plant a eucalypt at her father’s Kentish estate, if only he may obtain a specimen from the Botanic Gardens at Kew.
     By such mysterious workings of the Universe, I had despatched a letter to my dear friend Alethea Bigg this Friday last, only to observe her to pull up in a hired chaise before my very door on the Monday. I need hardly add she had neither received nor read my charming missive. This was tiresome, as I had written purposely to request her receipt for Seville Orange wine, my brother Charles having presented his sisters with a quantity of the fruit at Christmas, and we having quite outrun our powers of invention in consuming them.
     Alethea’s sudden appearance, however unlooked-for and delightful, is what we in the Austen household must regard as a sad waste of energy and hot-pressed paper. Naturally, she had come away without her receipt.
     “Mrs. Heathcote accompanies her,” Cassandra observed from her position by the dining parlour window, as Alethea and her sister were handed down from the carriage, “and Master William. He does not look very much grown since last we saw him. Indeed, he is positively slight in comparison of our nephews. How old must he be now, Jane?”
     “Fifteen at least,” I replied after an instant’s calculation. I was unmoved to learn that William had not grown; Elizabeth Heathcote’s son is forever being apostrophised as delicate. “They will have set out from Streatham on Saturday and stopped in Basingstoke. By this time”—for it was nearly one o’clock—“they will be famished for a nuncheon.”
     “Sally,” Cassandra said to our maidservant, who was tidying the remains of a late breakfast from our table, “we have guests. Pray set the kettle to boil, and look out the last of the mince-pies.”
     I hastened to the front vestibule and drew back the front door. Alethea Bigg stopped short on the gravel that separated the cottage from the Winchester Road, and extended both arms in greeting. “Jane!”
     She was looking handsome, in a warm winter pelisse of cherry wool lined with swan’s-down, and a square-crowned bonnet of gros de Naples in a slightly deeper shade. She had contrived to visit a London milliner while celebrating Christmas with her Streatham relations, I guessed. Alethea is both the youngest and the slightest of the Bigg sisters, and at nine-and-thirty has acquired a becoming dignity to her countenance. I have been acquainted with her from the age of seventeen, when she made her debut at the Basingstoke assemblies, and must prefer her present gravity to her girlish simper.
     We might once have called each other sisters.
     This chimerical thought, rising unbidden to the mind, I swiftly suppressed. Yes, nearly fifteen years ago I had entertained the absurd marriage proposal of Alethea’s little brother, Harris Bigg-Wither—a youth just down from Oxford, unschooled in address, but indubitably the heir to Manydown Park, an ancient and respectable manor in my home neighbourhood. He was far too young to marry, and I was probably too old; in any event, tho’ I accepted his offer at first, I rejected it at last, and have never regretted my single estate—when the price for exchanging it must be Harris.
     I will admit to a few pangs of regret for Manydown and its comforts, which marriage should have secured me; but am privileged to retain the best of them, in the friendship of the Bigg ladies—which endures despite my snub of their brother. Harris, for his part, proved successful in winning the heart of another—and has succeeded some years since to his father’s estate.
     I grasped Alethea’s gloved hands in my bare ones, heedless of my want of a wrap against the January wind. “How good of you to break your journey to call upon us! We did not look for the honour!”
     Her warm brown gaze swept my face, and some emotion suffused her own; but she mastered it swiftly. What might a younger and less controlled Alethea have betrayed? Anxiety? Horror? Pity?
     I looked past her, my smile fixed upon my lips, and saw the naked shock in Elizabeth’s countenance. It has been many months since the three of us have met—and I read the alteration of my person in their surprize. I have always been slender, but am now thin to the point of gauntness; my gowns hang upon my frame, and my visage is grown sharp and peaked. My colour is indifferent, tending towards the sallow, and my eyes, although they retain their brilliancy, appear sunk in their sockets.
     The Biggs’ apprehension of my illness must be the crueler for being sudden, whereas my sister Cassandra’s daily exposure to it, has inured her to its effect. So, too, with my mother and our companion Martha Lloyd; when from weakness I take to my bed, and refuse all nourishment, they cluck their concern, but dismiss it from their minds once I am well again. Alethea and Elizabeth have no shield against the blow, and I may measure my diminishment in their unease.
     “Mrs. Heathcote!” I cried roundly, with a show of pleasure as Elizabeth embraced me. “And Master Heathcote! Fresh from your Christmas holidays, and full of plum pudding. Come within-doors, before this wind freezes you to the marrow!”
     Elizabeth stared directly into my eyes; then, regardless of what she read there, stepped past me to greet Cassandra. Little would be mentioned, I was certain, of my health or prospects; we would share a brief interval of cheer and laughter; then the ladies and their charge would be once more upon the Winchester Road, headed south to their comfortable home in the Cathedral Close. They should reach it well before nightfall.
     All the confusion of shedding outer garments in the vestibule; my mother’s delighted halloos from above-stairs, and her abjurations to Sally to fetch her dressing gown; Martha bustling about with a beaming countenance, and a lavish hand with the confections; Master William’s schoolboy sufferance of a party of ageing ladies assuring each other of their continued vigour; and at last, a settling in our various chairs before the drawing-room fire, with the pleasantish view of the winter garden through the peaked Gothick window.
     “And how does Kitty go on?” Cassandra enquired once our guests had accepted a cup of tea and sampled some of Martha’s little almond cheesecakes.
     Elizabeth glanced at her son; the boy was endeavouring to make a friend of Cass’s dog, Link, with the inducement of a scrap of cold ham. “William,” she said, “do you take the animal out into the back garden for a romp.”
     “There is also a pair of donkeys in the stable,” I offered. “Cook will give you an apple for them.”
     He rose at once, inclined his head with a blush, and was gone in a trice; at which, Elizabeth sighed. “I did not like to discuss my sister’s condition before the boy. She is in that way again, and at her advanced time of life”—Kitty is the same age as I—“it seems a pity that Mr. Hill proves incapable of controlling his urges. She has presented him already with five sons and a daughter, and the latter is as yet a babe in arms!”
     “The elder boys are delightful,” Alethea supplied doubtfully, “but I will admit that six children under the age of seven make for a boisterous household.”
     “Kitty is fortunate that the fact of Mr. Hill’s holding three livings, affords him ample income to provide for servants,” Martha observed.
     “However little he may spiritually offer his parishioners,” I murmured into my tea. I knew the reverend Mr. Hill to preside over churches as distant from one another as Hampshire, Hereford, and Surrey—and doubted whether he earned his keep. Curates held his place in the pulpit, and the little Hills were their beneficiaries.
     “Any lying-in may be perilous,” my mother mused (she had survived eight), “but at Catherine’s age, must be doubly so. I shall pray for her.”
     Alethea affected a shudder. “I confess, I am never more thankful for having failed to marry, than when I observe poor Kitty’s haggard appearance over her needlework of an evening, when domestic cares and the demands of her husband have wrung the last particle of spirit from her frame. Elizabeth and I go on quite comfortably in our little establishment in Winchester—as I am sure you ladies do, here in Chawton—without the claims of a lord and master!”
     Judging by the admirable state of her dress, Alethea is privileged, I must suppose, to a private settlement of funds from her late father. Even if modest in the eyes of the Great World, her circumstances supply the elegancies of a genteel household. But the household itself is a credit entirely to her sister.
     Nearly twenty years ago, fresh from the same Basingstoke assemblies, Elizabeth Bigg chose to ally herself with a “lord and master”—William Heathcote, the second son of a baronet and rector of a fine parish, as well as a prebendary of Winchester. He was a strikingly handsome fellow, much addicted to the hunt; that he departed this life in the full flush of youth, when his son was but ten months old, was regarded as a tragedy. Elizabeth bore her loss with fortitude, however, and preserved her energies for the rearing of young Master William—betraying not the slightest inclination to assay the married estate again.
     Her jointure allowed for the leasing of a respectable home within the Cathedral Close, and the provision of her son’s fees as a Commoner of Winchester College. It is a peculiarity of the school’s founding in the fourteenth century that a clutch of prelates were named to oversee the instruction of a fixed number of charity boys, and each priest was awarded a house within the Cathedral’s walls. But as the centuries wore away and the school’s administration diverged from that of the Church (the schism from Rome, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the college’s acceptance of expensive gentlemen’s sons, bearing no small part in this), the Close’s homes were increasingly viewed as spoils, for their owners’ mercenary use. Elizabeth leases No. 12 from its prebendary, Dr. Williams, who cannot be troubled to occupy it; he finds his living at nearby Compton more to his taste.
     An excited bray from the rear of the house informed us that the donkeys had scented Cook’s apples. I hoped that Master William, however delicate, was stout enough to brave their gaping yellow jaws.
     “Your son is admirably behaved,” I told Elizabeth, who rose from her seat on the sopha by my mother and moved to one of the straight-backed chairs drawn up beside my own. “A paragon of virtue, in fact, compared to my brother Edward’s hellions!”
     “I wish he were in as boisterous health as they,” Elizabeth confided in a lowered tone. “Indeed, it was anxiety for his welfare that dictated my choice of a home within the Cathedral Close when he took up his place as a Commoner at Winchester. I could not be easy about William adventuring into the world otherwise.”
I have not a mother’s tender feelings, it is true. But Elizabeth’s words must occasion surprize. I have been accustomed to various male Austens embarking on their careers at Winchester, and eventually achieving their places at Oxford, with no greater misadventure than a few colds, beatings, and fisticuffs. Certainly, their mothers felt more relief than apprehension when the time came to pack their trunks and launch them upon the world. Elizabeth has never been one of your die-away misses, either, who must suspect a fearful danger in the sunniest of days. She possesses a tranquil if keen understanding, a resolute temper, and some familiarity with the Great. Why, then, this over-active sensibility with regard to her son?

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