Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Jane and the Waterloo Map

In November, 1815, Jane Austen was nearly 40, nursing her favorite brother Henry through a serious illness, and negotiating for the publication rights of *Emma*.  Henry's impending bankruptcy made Jane's writing income more important than ever, but *Mansfield Park*'s serious tone (and dull - in both senses of the word  - romantic hero) have made publisher wary of Miss Austen's latest novel.  When the Prince Regent graciously allows her to dedicate her latest novel to him, Jane wants to refuse but can't.  It's more of a "command" than a request.

What could go wrong when a respectable spinster visits Carlton House?  She's only meeting with the King's librarian and politely dodging the offer of well-appointed writing space.  No reasonable clergyman's daughter would expect a man to suffer a fit and die in front of her, uttering "Waterloo map" with his dying breath.  Stephanie Barron's fictional Jane Austen may not have expected to watch an army office die in a well-appointed library, but after solving a dozen murders, she's learned to identify a suspicious death.  Colonel MacFarland had been poisoned by yew needles, and the mysterious map may lead to hidden treasures.  With the help of her niece Fanny, painter Raphael West (mysterious and darkly handsome like Jane's late love Lord Harold), and a servant summarily dismissed by MacFarland's sister, Jane chases down the killer despite a particularly surprising twist.  She also gets to play Miss Bates to Fanny's Jane Fairfax in one of the most entertaining passages in the novel.  We leave Jane enjoying the success of *Emma* and starting to plot *Persuasion*.  It's bittersweet, because we know that she will soon become ill and will barely live to edit her final full novel.  I can't see how Barron can fit in two more murders for Jane to solve, and not enough time for her to decide whether Mr. West is a worthy successor to her Gentleman Rogue.

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