on 2 March 2002
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.
on 3 July 2011
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.
on 29 July 2015
As a resident of Southampton I have really enjoyed reading about the events set in my home city, spotting the local references, and even finding out things I didn't know about various local places although (to be utterly pedantic for a moment) the Wool House has always been known as that, not simply 'Wool House'. It's a grade 1 listed building with a fascinating history, started its life as a wool warehouse in the 1300s, and was indeed used to hold prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars. You can see their scratched graffiti on the roof beams. I agree with a previous reviewer who said, in effect, 'Who cares if Jane isn't behaving as a real Regency lady would? it's fun!'