JANE AND THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT SCARGRAVE MANOR
"I would rather spend an hour among the notorious than two minutes with the dull." To Jane Austens 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 violet to credit to a fondness for claret and pudding. Scargraves death seems a cruel blow of fate for Isobel, married but three months. Yet the bereaved widow soon finds that its only the beginning of her misfortune as she receives a sinister missive accusing her and the Earls 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 Manors guests:
LORD FITZROY PAYNE Inscrutable and strikingly handsome, Fitzroy is also heavily in debt. Did he wager his fortune on a quick succession to the earldom?
MR. GEORGE HEARST Paynes graveyard-faced cousin is bound for Holy Orders, but he may have been disappointed by his deceased uncle in a matter more intimate than ecclesiastic.
LIEUTENANT TOM HEARST Georges brother and penniless scapegrace with unruly curls and a satiric eye, his gallantries beguile even the cool-headed Miss Austen.
LORD HAROLD TROWBRIDGE Disliked for his haughty arrogance and cunning manner, he is an unwelcome guest who inspires great fear in Isobel. Why, wonders Jane, does he so covet Isobels heritage, her West Indian lands?
THE DELAHOUSSAYE LADIES Isobels aunt HORTENSE is out to make a match between Lord Fitzroy Payne and her daughter FANNY, a rich miss with yellow hair and an expanse of exposed bosom. Elegant, impertinent, snobbish and sadly lacking in sense Fanny prefers the dashing lieutenant.
Still, Jane is troubled by memories of the Earls 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 Janes own person in gravest jeopardy.
With her lively mind and acerbic tongue, Jane Austen is a sleuth to the manner born, and her first case, The Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, is stylishly sophisticated, devilishly intricate, and marvelously entertaining.
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Stephanie Barron also writes contemporary thrillers under the name Francine Mathews. Click here for more information.
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