Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron, tenth in Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen mystery series, cunningly throws the beloved novelist and the infamous poet together when they become entangled in a murder mystery. The novel opens with Jane at her home in Hampshire, struggling over her third novel - Mansfield Park – until she is summoned by her brother, Henry, to attend to his dying wife.
After Jane’s beloved sister-in-law passes away, Henry proposes that Jane accompany him on a trip to Brighton as a balm to both their spirits. Jane also hopes that the trip will clear her head so she can work out some of the plot details for her novel upon her return to Hampshire. Her hopes for a restful trip are shattered when a beautiful but troubled teenage girl of her acquaintance is found murdered in Lord Byron’s bed, scandalizing Brighton’s social elite.
Byron is said to be “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” but could he be a killer? Despite his reputation, many doubt that he is a murderer. Besides, he has plenty of enemies who wouldn’t hesitate to frame him for the crime. Jane is determined to uncover the truth and takes it upon herself to talk to Byron’s friends and lovers, question witnesses, analyze the evidence, even speak to Byron himself.
Barron does justice to Jane, writing her as an intelligent, charming and somewhat self-deprecating spinster. Byron is portrayed as the young, handsome, smoldering rogue of legend. Even stalwart Jane is not immune to his seductive charms. The characters also include two of Byron’s lovers – Jane Elizabeth, Countess of Oxford, and Lady Caroline (Caro) Lamb, who both seem to be portrayed as historically accurate as they could be.
Some characters and events are mentioned from previous Jane Austen mysteries, but that doesn’t detract from the story if you’re unfamiliar with the rest of the series. The language, conventions, and characters in Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron are spot-on. It feels like you’re being transported into Austen’s world – attending society balls and eavesdropping on society gossip. As Brighton’s elite gush over the brilliance of Pride and Prejudice unaware that the author is in their midst, you feel like you’re sharing an inside joke with Jane. This novel is a delight to read.