STEPHANIE BARRON – Jane and the Stillroom Maid: Being the Fifth Jane Austen Mystery.

Bantam, hardcover; August 2000. Reprint paperback, May 2001.

   Never having read any of Jane Austen’s works, or at least none that I can recall, I may not be the ideal person to be reviewing this book. On the other hand, speaking as a mystery fan, I thought the Jane Austen in this make-believe fiction does superbly well in her role as a full-fledged detective. By way of presentation, the book is related to us by her “editor” Stephanie Barron (a/k/a Francine Matthews), and I enjoyed it immensely.


   The year of the text is 1806, when it was entirely possible that Jane Austen could have been visiting Derbyshire, where she could have seen the house she used as an inspiration for Pemberley, the grand manor in the novel, as Barron says, “we now know as Pride and Prejudice.”

   And if she were in Derbyshire, is it not possible that she could have been once again (see the subtitle) involved in a murder there, this time of an apothecary maid in the most mysterious of circumstances?

   This is a well-plotted, well-told throwback to the Golden Age of detective fiction, in my humble opinion, with complication piled on complication. The maid has been shot in the forehead, but her body has been mutilated in a manner such as to cast blame on the demonic Masons the local folk fear so greatly. A sacrifice of some sort? More, and perhaps most puzzling, she is dressed in men’s clothing.

   Jane’s investigation — for definitely no timid wallflower is she — suggests that the maid’s death involves those well above her station. For many reasons, there are many who are not displeased that she is dead. Once again Lord Harold, the Gentleman Rogue in Jane’s life, is available to give her entrance to the world of the local gentry; if not for him, doors otherwise opened would have remained closed, and the case would never have been solved.

   Told in what satisfies me as being Jane Austen’s own words, with touches of delicate humor throughout, here’s a trip back in time I can’t recommend more. Charming and delectable; a complete pleasure.

— November 2002 (slightly revised)

   Bibliographic data:

      The JANE AUSTEN series —

1. Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor (1996)


2. Jane and the Man of the Cloth (1997)
3. Jane and the Wandering Eye (1998)
4. Jane and the Genius of the Place (1999)
5. Jane and the Stillroom Maid (2000)
6. Jane and the Prisoner of Wool House (2001)
7. Jane and the Ghosts of Netley (2003)
8. Jane and His Lordship’s Legacy (2005)
9. Jane and the Barque of Frailty (2006)


   Stephanie Barron’s most recent book, A Flaw in the Blood (Feb 2008), may be the first in a new historical series. In this one Irish barrister Patrick Fitzgerald, along with his ward Georgiana “Georgie” Armistead, initiates an enquiry into the death of Queen Victoria’s beloved Prince Albert.