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Stephanie Barron. Jane and the Year Without a Summer (Soho Press, $27.95 Signed).
May 1816: Jane Austen is feeling unwell, with an uneasy stomach, constant fatigue, rashes, fevers and aches. She attributes her poor condition to the stress of family burdens, which even the drafting of her latest manuscript—about a baronet's daughter nursing a broken heart for a daring naval captain—cannot alleviate. Her apothecary recommends a trial of the curative waters at Cheltenham Spa, in Gloucestershire. Jane decides to use some of the profits earned from her last novel, Emma, and treat herself to a period of rest and reflection at the spa, in the company of her sister, Cassandra. Cheltenham Spa hardly turns out to be the relaxing sojourn Jane and Cassandra envisaged, however. It is immediately obvious that other boarders at the guest house where the Misses Austen are staying have come to Cheltenham with stresses of their own—some of them deadly. But perhaps with Jane’s interference a terrible crime might be prevented. Set during the Year without a Summer, when the eruption of Mount Tambora in the South Pacific caused a volcanic winter that shrouded the entire planet for sixteen months, this fourteenth installment in Stephanie Barron’s critically acclaimed series brings a forgotten moment of Regency history to life.
Francine Mathews is a writer of mystery and spy fiction who also writes historical mysteries under the name Stephanie Barron. Mathews earned her master's degree at Stanford University in history and then worked with the CIA for several years as an intelligence analyst. As Francine Mathews she has written two series, one set in Nantucket featuring police officer Meredith "Merry" Folger. Mathews has stated that with this series she tried to "capture the difficult life in New England today" and the "bitter and embedded economic issues" facing the fishing industry. Her second series are spy thrillers based on her time working with the CIA. As Stephanie Barron, Mathews has written historical novels featuring the English novelist Jane Austen (1775–1817) as amateur sleuth. The books are presented as lost diaries merely edited by Barron. Mathews has carried out considerable research into Austen as background to the series, especially using Austen's correspondence as a key source.