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The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen. by Lindsay Ashford


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When author Lindsay Ashford moved to Chawton in Hampshire, she was planning to write another contemporary crime novel to add to her successful series featuring the forensic psychologist Megan Rhys. She found herself living in a sixteenth-century dovecote owned by a living relative of Jane Austen and working in the library of a house once owned by Jane Austens brother, Edward. With access to volumes of Austen family letters and diaries, and in surroundings well known to Jane Austen and her family, it is hardly surprising that Ashford abandoned her modern novel to plunge into a mystery made all the more fascinating because it is inspired by facts that could prove the key to answering a real-life question: did Jane Austen die of natural causes or was she murdered? Jane Austen died in 1817 at the age 41, which was the shortest lifespan by far of her immediate family members. Twenty-six years later her friend, Anne Sharp, learns of the new Marsh test and hopes that medical science has progressed enough to prove that Jane was murdered. Fiction echoes fact when a lock of Janes hair is analysed and proves to contain large amounts of arsenic. (Today you can visit Jane Austens cottage at Chawton, where you can indeed view a lock of her hair which was tested in the twentieth century and found to contain injurious levels of arsenic.) Anne Sharp is the narrator and instigator of this record of events leading up to Janes death. She and Jane Austen met when Anne was working as a governess in the household of Janes brother Edward. They became life-long friends despite the difference in their social standing and this distance allows her a clearer perspective on events in the Austen family. The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen relates how Anne Sharp formulates theories and motives as she attempts to unravel the facts and deal with her suspicions of foul play and her feelings of loss, helplessness and anger at Janes untimely death. Ashford has written a compelling and believable story which had me completely enthralled. She uses her experience of writing crime fiction, her knowledge of modern forensics and her vivid imagination to weave fact with fiction and conjecture. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and can heartily recommend it to anyone interested in the life and death of Jane Austen and to lovers of crime fiction who were not so fortunate as to receive a copy of The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen for Christmas! Catriona Jackson It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council. Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar, trwy ganiatd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru. -- Welsh Books Council

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