Jane Austen as sleuth continues to delight in her latest adventure (after Jane and the Genius of the Place), which sheds new light on the author's travels in 1806. While enjoying a ramble in the Derbyshire hills near Bakewell (a town Eliza Bennett visits in Pride and Prejudice), Jane discovers the mutilated body of a young man. Jane's suspicions are roused when her escort, Mr. George Hemming, prefers to remove the unidentified corpse to Buxton, rather than Bakewell, and they increase when the body proves to be that of a woman dressed in men's clothing. Moreover, the corpse is identified as Tess Arnold, a servant at one of the area's great houses, whom Mr. Hemming should have recognized. As the compounder of stillroom remedies, Tess had a reputation as a healer, until accused of witchcraft. Rumors of ritual murder by Freemasons-who include most of the neighboring gentry-excite the local populace and jeopardize the investigation of the justice of the peace, himself a Mason. When Mr. Hemming disappears before the inquest, Jane and the justice turn for help to Lord Harold Trowbridge, a guest at the nearby ducal house of Chatsworth. Barron catches Austen's tone amazingly well. Details of early 19th-century country life of all classes ring true, while the story line is clear, yet full of surprises. The "editor's notes" that punctuate the text and old cures for various ills that open each chapter add to the charm. (Aug.)
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: Jane and the Stillroom Maid||Series: A Jane Austen Mystery, , #5|
|Release Date: 08-26-2009|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: Bantam Books|
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Jane and the Stillroom Maid
26 August 1806
The Rutland Arms, Bakewell, Derbyshire
Mr. Edward Cooper -- Rector of Hamstall Ridware, Staffordshire, Fellow of All Souls, devoted supplicant before his noble patron, Sir George Mumps, and my first cousin -- is possessed of a taste for hymns. He sings without the slightest encouragement or provocation, in a key entirely of his own choosing. Were he content to sing alone, in a subdued undertone befitting one of his dignity and station, all might be well. But Mr. Cooper has achieved a modest sort of fame as the composer of sacred music; and like the ardent shepherd of many a flock, must needs have company in his rejoicing. There are those who profess to admire my cousin's wistful baritone and remarkable lyrics -- Sir George Mumps himself is said to have presented the Staffordshire living on the strength of his esteem -- but Jane Austen is not among them. Were Mr. Cooper to sing airs in the Italian, before an audience of five hundred, I should still blush for his execution and taste. My cousin is a very good sort of man, his compassion and understanding quite equal to the duties of his parish; but his strains are not for the enduring, of an early hour of the morning.
I was blushing now, as I rolled towards Miller's Dale in the heart of Derbyshire behind the horse of Mr. Cooper's excellent friend, Mr. George Hemming; and I foresaw a morning's-worth of mortification in store, did my cousin continue to sing as he had begun. I had borne with Mr. Cooper's hymns through his dawn ablutions; I had borne with a determined humming over our morning coffee. And as the pony trap rolled west through a remarkable spread of country, I now ref...