Synopses & Reviews
In her sixth engrossing outing, Jane Austen employs her delicious wit and family ties to the Royal Navy in a case of murder on the high seas. Somewhere in the picturesque British port of Southampton, among a crew of colorful, eccentric, and fiercely individual souls, a killer has come ashore. And only Jane can fathom the depths of his ruthless mind....
Jane and the Prisoner of Wool House
“I will assert that sailors are endowed with greater worth than any set of men in England.”
So muses Jane Austen as she stands in the buffeting wind of Southamptons quay beside her brother Frank on a raw February morning. Frank, a post captain in the Royal Navy, is without a ship to command, and his best prospect is the Stella Maris, a fast frigate captained by his old friend Tom Seagrave.
“Lucky” Tom — so dubbed for his habit of besting enemy ships — is presently in disgrace, charged with violating the Articles of War. Toms first lieutenant, Eustace Chessyre, has accused Seagrave of murder in the death of a French captain after the surrender of his ship.
Though Lucky Tom denies the charge, his dagger was found in the dead mans chest. Now Seagrave faces court-martial and execution for a crime he swears he did not commit.
Frank, deeply grieved, is certain his friend will hang. But Jane reasons that either Seagrave or Chessyre is lying — and that she and Frank have a duty to discover the truth.
The search for the captains honor carries them into the troubled heart of Seagraves family, through some of the seaports worst sinkholes, and at long last to Wool House, the barred brick structure that serves as gaol for French prisoners of war.
Risking contagion or worse, Jane agrees to nurse the murdered French captains imprisoned crew — and elicits a debonair surgeons account of the Stella Mariss battle that appears to clear Tom Seagrave of all guilt.
When Eustace Chessyre is found murdered, the entire affair takes on the appearance of an insidious plot against Seagrave, who is charged with the crime. Could any of his naval colleagues wish him dead? In an era of turbulent intrigue and contested amour, could it be a case of cherchez la femme ... or a veiled political foe at work? And what of the sealed orders under which Seagrave embarked that fateful night in the Stella Maris? Death knocks again at Janes own door before the final knots in the killers net are completely untangled.
Always surprising, Jane and the Prisoner of Wool House is an intelligent and intriguing mystery that introduces Jane and her readers to “the naval set” — and charts a true course through the amateur sleuths most troubled waters yet.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Stephanie Barron, a lifelong admirer of Jane Austen’s work, is the author of five previous Jane Austen mysteries. She lives in Colorado, where she is at work on the seventh Jane Austen mystery, Jane and the Ghosts of Netley
. As Francine Mathews, she is the author most recently of The Cutout
. Learn more about both Stephanie Barron and Francine Mathews at www.francinemathews.com.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. Jane Austen was born in 1775, on the eve of Englands war with the American colonies, and died in 1817, two years after Napoleons defeat at Waterloo. Her life was in many ways defined by warfare. How might this have shaped Austens attitudes toward men? Toward womens traditional roles?
2. In Barrons novels, Jane Austen is regarded as a gentlewoman-a person of good birth and social standing-who unfortunately has no money. Her desire to write novels is partly motivated by a desire for financial independence and a life beyond the narrow domestic roles accorded to women in her day. Is this struggle different today?
3. The fictional Jane of this mystery series walks a fine line between knowledge of the broader world and its evils-murder, adultery, jealous, scheming, avarice, political treason-and a sharp awareness that a lady of her period was expected to know nothing of any of them. Is Jane a hypocrite? Is she unusual in her knowledge of the world? How does her compromise between experience and the limits of social convention surface in her fiction?
4. Lord Harold Trowbridge holds an immense attraction for Jane in these novels. What does he represent in her life-the desire for power? For deep emotional and physical experience? The desire to save him from himself? Or merely Janes yearning to be known for who she truly is? Is Jane more honest with Lord Harold that with others in her life?
5. Jane lavishes affection on her elder sister Cassandra. Is Cassandra worthy of it?
6. Janes involvement in the lives of others suggests the possibility that she a) an insufferable busybody; b) has too much time on her hands; or c) is extraordinarily perceptive about human nature-which allows her to map the motivations behind (occasionally criminal) actions. Discuss. Is Jane a perceptive person? Is this evident in her novels as well as her detective adventures?
7. In an era when women were expected to marry and have children, Jane did neither-publishing books instead. Was she a rebel? How did she make the best of a social fate she neither chose nor controlled? Which qualities make it more or less likely that she would enjoy the challenges of amateur detective?
8. Janes fictional women usually triumph by the power of their wits and the energy of their actions. Does this reflect Janes real life? Is it a hopeful view of existence? Do you think Jane was a content person? An ambitious one? A wise woman or a blind one?
The Jane Austen Mysteries by Stephanie Barron place a beloved nineteenth-century author in an unfamiliar role: that of amateur detective. The series follows Austens life from the age of 26, in 1802, up to the year of her first novels publication in 1811. The questions offered below are intended to spark conversations among interested readers.