I just finished this book – Jane and the Stillroom Maid, Being the Fifth Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron, published in 2000. This series just keeps getting better and better. Jane has turned 30, a fact which is much on her mind, and which clearly puts her beyond the bounds of ever being married, in the culture of that time.
However, in this volume, back again is Lord Harold Trowbridge, the second son of a duke, a spy, diplomat and mediator for his country around the globe, and one of Jane’s closest friends and sleuths. Jane is very attracted to him, but realizes in her head, not her heart, that in this stratified society such an attraction would horrify most people. Jane is a lady, but not of the nobility.
This strand, and much else about the culture of the early 1800’s in England, as Napoleon raged over the continent and threatened Britain, is a big part of these mysteries. A stillroom maid, for instance, was in many ways an apothecary / druggist, working with herbs and other substances for healing and health, as well as preserving and canning vegetables and fruits. The surgeon in this part of Derbyshire is also a blacksmith – and there are many other anomalies sprinkled throughout all of this series. Which is part of what makes them all so fun.
Stephanie writes with Jane’s voice effortlessly – in thinking, in conversations, in her relationships with her mother, sister and others who come and go from book to book. And these are terrific puzzlers, with many clues to the numerous possible killers in each book. This book, for instance, brings in the Masons and their practices, whose members are drawn from the upper classes across the country. The clues point in many directions. I figured it out early, and then was distracted by all the other possibilities, and decided I was wrong. It is great to be fooled by a true master.
The Cincinnati Public Library has all these books – and so does your nearest bookstore. Go for it!