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Jul 21, 2009
Review: Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor
Title: Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor
Author: Stephanie Barron
Publisher: Bantam Books (1996)
I found a second hand copy of this book at my local library and picked it up for the Everything Austen Reading Challenge. I have very little experience in reading or reviewing mystery books, so I am not really confident that I know what makes a good mystery novel. That being said, I enjoyed reading Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor but did not feel that it created enough suspense or intellectual puzzlement (which I would assume to be important to the mystery genre). I love the Jane Austen period and loved the references to the dress and customs of the day. Stephanie Barron did a good job at imitating Austen's writing style which is probably why it was not very suspenseful. The story plods along and develops slowly and evenly. Austen's original works portrayed daily life in great detail and focused on the motives underlying her character's actions. I am still unconvinced that this style works well in a mystery where extraordinary events such as murder and mayhem are the topics. It seemed to lack emotional intensity which I would expect from characters under such strain.
It is written in first person by Jane under the guise that she recorded the story in her journal as well as in letters to her sister Cassandra. As a guest at a bridal ball being held at Scargrave Manor in honor of her close friend, Jane becomes entangled in a murder case. Her friend, Isobel is accused of murdering her new husband who is found to have been poisoned, but Jane never wavers in her faithfulness to her friends innocence. Though Isobel is secretly in love with her new husbands nephew she is not the type of person to commit a murder. Jane finds important clues, overhear suspicious conversations and uncovers a lot of financial difficulty amongst various members of the family. She is amazingly strong in every circumstance, such as when faced with the horror of discovering a body, when required to testify in court, when visiting the notorious Newgate Prison and when under personal threat. In the nick of time Jane figures out who the real murderer was and saves her beautiful friend from being sentenced to death.
Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor is the first in a series of Jane Austen mystery novels by Stephanie Barron. She captures the style, time and setting very well. Her characters are interesting but not very deeply drawn. The mystery held my interest but did not grip me. I would certainly suggest it to readers who enjoy old-fashioned mysteries.