JANE AND THE FINAL MYSTERY by Stephanie Barron
SERIES: Being a Jane Austen Mystery #15
GENRE: Historical Mystery/Austenesque (Clean)
PUBLISHER: Soho Books
RELEASE DATE: October 24, 2023
The final volume of the critically acclaimed mystery series featuring Jane Austen as amateur sleuth
March 1817: As winter turns to spring, Jane Austen’s health is in slow decline, and threatens to cease progress on her latest manuscript. But when her nephew Edward brings chilling news of a death at his former school, Winchester College, not even her debilitating ailment can keep Jane from seeking out the truth. Arthur Prendergast, a senior pupil at the prestigious all-boys’ boarding school, has been found dead in a culvert near the schoolgrounds—and in the pocket of his drenched waistcoat is an incriminating note penned by the young William Heathcote, the son of Jane’s dear friend Elizabeth. Winchester College is a world unto itself, with its own language and rites of passage, cruel hazing and dangerous pranks. Can Jane clear William’s name before her illness gets the better of her?
Over the course of fourteen previous novels in the critically acclaimed Being a Jane Austen Mystery series, Stephanie Barron has won the hearts of thousands of fans—crime fiction aficionados and Janeites alike—with her tricky plotting and breathtaking evocation of Austen’s voice. Now, she brings Jane’s final season—and final murder investigation—to brilliant, poignant life in this unforgettable conclusion.
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praise for Jane and the final mystery
“Poignant . . . Elicits deep emotion out of Jane’s struggles against her own mortality. This is a fitting send-off for a beautifully realized series.”— Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Barron developed Jane’s narrative voice by reading Austen’s collected and published letters, and it is neither spoiler nor surprise to say that series readers will be sorry to say goodbye to Jane Austen, amateur sleuth.”— Booklist
“[Barron] has brilliantly combined authentic historical and biographical details with skillful plotting and a credible evocation of Austen’s wry, distinctive voice. She brings the English author’s final investigation to a poignant, unforgettable close. Fans of this historical series will not be disappointed.”— First Clue
While I only started reading Stephanie Barron’s Being a Jane Austen Mystery series with the final two books, I absolutely plan to go back some day and read the previous thirteen that I missed. It’s clear that the author has done meticulous research in order to write so delightfully in Austen’s 1st person POV (which is spot-on) and with such evident affection. Historical fact & people are indelibly linked to the fictional mystery, making it extremely easy to picture Jane Austen as an amateur sleuth and putting readers right in the midst of her life and family.
“Hold the reins in both hands,” [Edward] instructed. “Loosely, Aunt. Not as tho’ you wish to tie off a bleeding man’s stump.”
In Jane and the Final Mystery, readers continue to watch Jane decline in health but remain stalwart of spirit. I personally identified with Jane in several ways – her being a childless aunt with a close relationship to her nieces and nephews, her day-to-day struggle with a chronic (and worsening) illness, and also with the tremulous hope that maybe she’ll yet find a doctor who not only cares enough to help but also knows how to do so. Of course, the title of this novel is a dire foreshadowing of what we already know from history to be true… indeed, that we are walking through the final months of Jane Austen’s life with her. And yet, the novel retains the wit and intelligence that are familiar to this series, wrapping readers up in a comforting embrace and immersing us into a layered mystery that succeeds in (mostly) distracting us from the inevitable.
“Her trial ended in acquittal; but she remains a subject of familial uneasiness.” (about Jane’s Aunt Jane)
Speaking of the mystery, I found it to be quite intriguing and well-drawn. I loved that it involves actual historical figures even beyond Jane’s family – in this case, a William Heathcote a few years before he inherits the title of the 5th Baronet of Hursley. And while the mystery is fictional, it’s always interesting to read about real people whom Jane did indeed encounter. It serves to make Jane herself seem more ‘real’ too. As we meet William, he is yet a teenager, plagued by his stuttering, and falsely accused of murdering a fellow student (who happens to have been his arch nemesis) at Winchester College (his boarding school). Enter Jane, a close friend of William’s mother Elizabeth, and Jane’s dear nephew Edward, a friend of William’s. I thoroughly enjoyed Edward & Jane’s relationship, in addition to appreciating their ability to solve a mystery. I began to suspect the actual murderer before Jane or Edward did, but there were still some surprising twists I was not expecting.
“I am once again struck by the subtlety of your understanding, Aunt.”
“It is a family failing,” I assured him, and returned to Elizabeth.
Bottom Line: Jane and the Final Mystery is at once witty and affectionate, even as readers know in the back of their minds that we are experiencing Jane’s final months along with her. The tone remains light and cozy, the kind of book you can just sink into and escape the world for a few hours. Barron’s talented writing voice and her careful research both shine in Jane’s cleverness, her narrative, and her sleuthing skills. It is easy to see our beloved Austen in this role, and although there is some degree of sadness in saying goodbye to this series – and to Jane – your heart will ultimately be lightened in reading this book.
(I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the publisher. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.)
My Rating: 4 stars / loved it!
Stephanie Barron is a graduate of Princeton and Stanford, where she received her Masters in History as an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow in the Humanities. Her novel, THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN (Ballantine, January 22, 2019) traces the turbulent career of Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill’s captivating American mother. Barron is perhaps best known for the critically acclaimed Jane Austen Mystery Series, in which the intrepid and witty author of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE details her secret detective career in Regency England. A former intelligence analyst for the CIA, Stephanie—who also writes under the name Francine Mathews—drew on her experience in the field of espionage for such novels as JACK 1939, which The New Yorker described as “the most deliciously high-concept thriller imaginable.” She lives and works in Denver, CO.
What about you? What makes you want to read Jane and the Final Mystery by Stephanie Barron?