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Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron: Being A Jane Austen Mystery    by Stephanie Barron order for
Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron
by Stephanie Barron
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2010 (2010)
Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This tenth in Stephanie Barron's delightful Regency mystery series, starring Jane Austen as sleuth, opens on the death of Jane's beloved friend and sister-in-law Eliza, Comtesse de Feuillide. When Jane's brother Henry cannnot bear to remain in the home he and Eliza shared, Jane persuades him that 'salt air is as essential as balm to a wounded heart'. Henry chooses to frequent the glittering seaside resort of Brighton, 'summer haunt of expensive Fashionables' and of the Prince Regent.

En route, Jane hears muffled cries from a coach, which results in their rescuing fifteen-year-old Catherine Twining from the notorious Lord Byron, famed poet and 'the most celebrated Romantic of our age.' Her father, a General, is not particularly grateful for the rescue, blaming his daughter for the escapade and planning to marry her off to an unpleasant elderly clergyman. Rescuing Miss Twining becomes a habit when they find her in need of it again in the Regent's Marine Pavilion. But then the young lady is found dead, sewn into a sailor's hammock in Lord Byron's bed at the King's Arms. That and Byron's reputation as 'mad, bad, and dangerous to know' make him the obvious chief suspect.

Jane is persuaded to investigate by an old acquaintance, Lady Desdemona Swithin, niece of Jane's beloved, long dead Lord Harold, Gentleman Rogue. Mona asks for Jane's help on behalf of her close friend, Byron's lover Lady Oxford. Byron's ex-lover, Lady Caro Lamb, swans in and out of the story, making her trademark drama queen gestures, which don't help his case. Neither does Jane and Henry's discovery of a tunnel between Byron's inn and the Regent's Pavilion. This only increases the pressure to settle the matter quickly and hang the poet, who soon seeks 'a private justice', with Jane close on his heels.

It's an engaging series, the author casting a clear eye on her Regency setting - both it and her lead are thoroughly researched, with regular references to Austen's own writing (she's working on Mansfield Park while investigating murder this time). If you're either a Jane Austen or a mystery fan - and especially if you're both - you don't want to miss Stephanie Barron's charming tales of Jane's regular forays as a sleuth.

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