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Jane and the Prisoner of Wool (Jane Austen Mystery) [Mass Market Paperback]

Stephanie Barron
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

15 Oct 2002 Jane Austen Mystery
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 Southampton’s 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. Tom’s 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 man’s 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 captain’s honor carries them into the troubled heart of Seagrave’s family, through some of the seaport’s 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 captain’s imprisoned crew — and elicits a debonair surgeon’s account of the Stella Maris’s 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 Jane’s own door before the final knots in the killer’s 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 sleuth’s most troubled waters yet.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Jane and the Prisoner of Wool (Jane Austen Mystery) + Jane and the Barque of Frailty (Jane Austen Mysteries (Paperback)) + Jane and His Lordship's Legacy (Jane Austen Mysteries (Paperback))
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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam USA; Reissue edition (15 Oct 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553578405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553578409
  • Product Dimensions: 2.7 x 10.5 x 17.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 893,447 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
This is the sixth Stephanie Barron book. All are based on a set of diaries supposedly written by Jane Austen and found in a cellar in Baltimore. They are all thoroughly enjoyable, but this one particularly so. The author always chooses a snippet from Jane's life and weaves the whole story around it. In this one, she and her family are in lodgings in Southampton, and brother Frank is hopeful being posted to a new ship. The trouble is - and where the story starts - is that the captain of the ship, who is a friend, has been accused of murder. It looks as if Frank will get his ship and promotion only if his friend is hung.
Jane Austen was, of course, a Georgian and not a Victorian; she does not swoon when faced with the grimmer side of life. And life in a seaport during the Napoleonic Wars was grim. French prisoners of war are imprisoned and dying of goal-fever in the Wool House but that is where Jane's investigation into the background of the murder leads her. She travels to and from between Southampton and Portsmouth by ship, finds herself in the red-light district, and is faced with the realisation that her much-loved brother has been changed by the realities of war into a much tougher character than she had realised. Childbirth, home life, the need to dress fashionably on very little money - all come vividly to life. So to, do the very real changes since that period. Jane is only 31 but admits that she has 'lost her youthful bloom'; her friend, Martha, in her early forties, is settled into middle-age; children from the age of five are on board war ships, running errands and carrying gunpowder.
The author is a life-long admirer of Jane Austen and never strikes a discordant note. The unravelling of the mystery is well done, satisfactory, and leaves you waiting for the next one.
Val Whitmarsh
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5.0 out of 5 stars Jane The Sleuth Gets Better and Better 3 July 2011
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
This, the sixth in Stephanie Barron's brilliant series where Jane Austen the author becomes Jane the sleuth, ably assisted by the dark, roguish Lord Harold Trowbridge in most instances, has a theme of all things nautical, including a lot of the characters.

Staying with her brother Frank, affectionately known as Fly to the family, at the busy port of Southampton for the winter, Jane is drawn into the life of the navy when Fly takes up the defence of a fellow captain and friend accused of murder on the high seas. It quickly becomes apparent that there is much more to this than meets the eye, and the Austen siblings feel honour-bound to discover who is determined to see Captain James Seagrave hang.
In the meantime, Jane is also cajoled into acting as nurse for the French prisoners being held at the less than salubrious building known as Wool House down by the quay, and it is here she meets the man of the title. As the investigation gains momentum and gossip begins to spread between the two naval communities of Southampton and Portsmouth, Jane discovers that the sick surgeon sojourning at Wool House is more than just a pleasing face...

An engaging page-turner from start to finish, even without the presence of the compelling Lord Harold in this adventure, 'The Prisoner of Wool House' is another great read from Barron, with plenty of little clue twists to add to her clever Austen-esque prose.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  24 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slightly below "Jane's" usually excellent standard 8 Dec 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Barron's series featuring Jane Austen as sleuth is one of the most delectable of the famous-person-as-detective genre.
Barron's Jane is penetrating, quick, and energetically determined to see justice prevail - and she always does just in time to avert even greater evils. Our new Jane also has the internal qualities we would expect: introspection, sensitivity, dry humor, and concern about finances and her disappearing bloom. And, being a romantic, Jane has quite a lively interest in men, and they in her.
All these elements are present in "The Prisoner of Wool House" but this most recent of Jane's adventures just isn't a gripper. The premise - the court-martial of brother Frank's naval friend and a mysterious French prisoner of war - is fascinating, but the military, shipping, and naval details become tedious, and the necessarily coastal venue was not inviting, possibly because Barron's descriptions are spare and sparse, and possibly because Jane herself wasn't terribly excited about living there.
Many of the characters fail to come truly to life, although the surgeon Mr. Hill, and the accused officer's depressed wife Louise, were interestingly drawn. I had hoped for sight of the Gentleman Rogue, but he must have been off on an adventure of his own. The ever-scrupulous Cassandra was away too, though Mrs. Austen decidedly was not, and was as wonderfully obnoxious as ever. Brother Frank, like all of Jane's brothers, was somewhat self-absorbed but nonetheless quite likeable.
All in all, the "Prisoner" was an enjoyable read but doesn't quite make it to the top shelf. Jane's earlier adventures, particularly "The Man of Cloth", are all up there, however, and are as much fun as even the historical Jane could have wished for.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better and Better She Gets... 25 May 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
... but less and less like Jane Austen. So? Who cares? Well, the Austen purists do, but they probably quit reading the series long ago. Yep, Jane is behaving downright unnaturally for a true Regency spinster--isn't it fun? The endless reflection and ratiocination of the earlier books is replaced with more action in the recent books, and I for one consider the change an improvement. This is my favorite book so far; when I read Netley, that will undoubtedly become my new favorite. Read Jane Austen if you want to read Jane Austen; read this series if you enjoy good mysteries with interesting characters and well-researched local/historical color.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another engrossing entry in a wonderful mystery series 20 Jan 2002
By Sharon Wylie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mystery series has maintained its freshness and appeal through this, the sixth in the series. These books are supposedly Austen's "discovered diaries" edited by Barron, whose explanatory footnotes help the reader better understand the time period and locale.
This episode finds Jane in Southampton in 1807. Her brother Frank, a post captain in the Royal Navy, is convinced that his good friend Tom Seagrave, a captain who stands accused of violating the Articles of War (the punishment for which is death), is innocent. Jane becomes convinced as well, and together, they set out to prove it. Their conviction takes them from Southampton's finest homes to its darkest slums, from the sickroom of French prisoners of war to the discovery of espionage and finally, a revelation of ultimate betrayal.
Barron shows herself to be a master of plot here, as a tangled (but never convoluted) web of intrigue and revenge is slowly revealed. The many characters and motivations are complex and fully drawn, and Jane's enthusiasm for the Navy gives us a glimpse into a time when military service could mean the making of a fortune.
I'm not an Austen scholar, but I am an Austen fan, and I enjoy the entire series for the way it evokes Austen's sly sense of humor in reporting the events and people that surround her. The only thing that kept me from giving 5 stars is that I was able to solve the mystery myself.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captive Audience 23 Dec 2005
By RCM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I continue to be impressed with how comfortable Stephanie Barron has made herself in Jane Austen's shoes and world. In her introductions to each of the books, Barron accounts that these tales are 'diaries' written by Austen that she is merely editing. The sixth book in her Jane Austen mysteries is as strong as the previous ones, interweaving facts of Jane's life with the fiction of Barron's mysterious imaginings.

"Jane and the Prisoner of Wool House" finds our beloved heroine in Southampton, 1807, awaiting installation at her brother's new home. Her brother, Frank Austen, is an officer with the Royal Navy, resigned to living on land, but longing to return to sea. He quickly learns that his wish is to be granted, but only at the cost of a friendship. His longtime friend, Captain Tom Seagrave, is accused of murdering the captain of a French ship they overtook in battle. Frank knows his friend to be innocent, and enlists his sister's sleuthing skills to uncover the truth of the matter. Jane soon finds herself ministering to the French prisoners of war, where she meets a man who could clear the Captain's name. But before he can do so, another murder is committed and unexpected happenings confuse the real mystery at hand.

As with her previous works, Barron has totally immersed herself in Jane Austen's world. For Austen fans it is almost as if these fictional mysteries were Austen's recovered diaries, for Barron pays her due justice. "Jane and the Prisoner of Wool House" is a worthy addition to the series, and I look forward to reading the next entries.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another fun Jane Austen romp 12 Mar 2002
By booksforabuck - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In 1807, novelist Jane Austen is in Southampton with her brother Frank as he attempts to secure himself a ship. When one of his friends and fellow officers in the British navy is accused of a particularly foul murder, Frank flounders, certain of his friend's innocence yet unable to determine a plan of action. Fortunately for Frank, and for Frank's friend, Jane is only too willing to take on the mystery. Before long there are suspects for a frame and dead bodies, all in the context of proper Jane Austen manners.
Author Stephanie Barron does an excellent job describing England at war with Napoleon, on the verge of the industrial age, and in the transition to the modern world. Manners, position in society, and inherited wealth still play major roles, and marrying the right man is the ultimate goal for the proper woman. Barron is obviously sympathetic with her heroine, a novelist whose personal life is far from ideal, while not attempting to give Austen unduly modern attitudes.
Mixed in with the pleasurable historical view and literary references, Barron manages to deliver an exciting mystery as well. With a prisoner of war camp, a dramatic rescue at sea, and plenty of evil and simply naughty red herrings on the scene, Austen has all she can do to keep her senses and sensibilities about her and help prevent a terrible injustice. JANE AND THE PRISONER OF WOOL HOUSE is a lot of fun.
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