This is the fifth book in the Jane Austen Mystery Series by Stephanie Barron.
In a newly discovered secret journal, Jane Austen documents her adventures as an amateur sleuth. In the summer of 1806, after her beloved father's death, the Austen ladies are visiting Derbyshire with her cousin Edward Cooper. Naturally, Jane seizes the opportunity to enjoy a long walk and admire the beautiful nature, when she discovers the mutilated body of what appears to be a young gentleman. To her great surprise, it turns out that the body is that of a young stillroom maid of a nearby estate, and suspicions fall on the master of the estate Charles Danforth. Her family urges Jane to stay away from the investigation, but when her old friend Lord Harold Trowbridge asks for her help to look into Danforth's involvement in the case, Jane cannot possibly refuse.
This series is excellent and this fifth novel is one of the best so far. Stephanie Barron has, once again, created a gripping mystery plot, brilliantly set in Austen's time, with a very convincing Jane as its heroine. The descriptions of rural Derbyshire are stunning and the atmosphere fantastic. As in all the novels of the series, the everyday life of the time is excellent, drawn with beautiful imagery and historical detail, and I found the references to the recipe book of the stillroom maid and her remedies fascinating. The well developed characters are based on the types of characters created by Austen herself, and thus are very convincing and typical of their time. Jane is very convincing as an amateur sleuth, and it was wonderful to see again Lord Harold Trowbridge, as he and Jane make an excellent pair. The story is narrated by Austen in her journal and the language is very similar to her existing letters, thus very realistic.
In the previous books in the series, the author includes excellent and very useful footnotes explaining some references to Austen's life and providing valuable information on the customs and politics of the time, in the form of "editor's notes". However, this time the notes were very few and consequently it was very difficult to follow the plot at times, due to the lack of sufficient information. It seems odd that Stephanie Barron almost omitted these explanatory footnotes, as the book makes a lot of references to the politics and customs of Austen's time, and clearly a reader should not be required to have an extensive knowledge of British history and politics.
The novel can stand on its own, but as it makes many references to the previous novels in the series, I think it is best to start from the beginning.