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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping, page turning, toxic sugar plum unlike any other Austenesque novel I have ever read.
I had the pleasure of reading this mystery novel in 2011 when it was published in the UK as THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS AUSTEN. I was very happy to learn that it was being published for the North American market by Sourcebooks as THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS JANE AUSTEN. After a recent second reading I can honestly state that "my affections and wishes are...
Published 12 months ago by Laurel Ann

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but wordy.
It took me a long time to read. I wondered if I were ever going to finish. It was not a can't-put-down. Despite that, I did finish and did find it interesting.
Published 7 months ago by Ethel Thuemmel


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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping, page turning, toxic sugar plum unlike any other Austenesque novel I have ever read., August 17, 2013
This review is from: The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen (Paperback)
I had the pleasure of reading this mystery novel in 2011 when it was published in the UK as THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS AUSTEN. I was very happy to learn that it was being published for the North American market by Sourcebooks as THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS JANE AUSTEN. After a recent second reading I can honestly state that "my affections and wishes are unchanged."

The book opens with this shocking question. Did Jane Austen die of natural causes or was she murdered? The possibility sent shivers down the back of my neck. Like many Janeites I have read of the many theories (and much speculation) on the fatal illnesses that may have caused Jane Austen's death at age forty-one in 1817. Addison's disease, Hodgkin's lymphoma, bovine tuberculosis, and recently Brill-Zinsser disease have all been suggested. We know that Jane Austen was a perceptive observer of people and events in her novels and in her own life. In 1817, when she had a brief remission in her fatal illness, she wrote a letter on March 23rd to her favorite niece Fanny Knight. In it she supplies us with some very important evidence of her physical condition and the appearance of her face:

"I certainly have not been very well for many weeks, and about a week ago I was very poorly, I have had a good deal of fever at times and indifferent nights, but am considerably better now and recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour. I must not depend upon ever being blooming again. Sickness is a dangerous indulgence at my time of life."

These words piqued Lindsay Ashford's training in criminology from Queens' College, Cambridge. Severe discoloring of the face are signs of arsenic poisoning. Coupled with the amazing discovery that arsenic testing had been conducted in the 1940's on the sample of Jane Austen's hair, she was compelled to write her novel - fiction yes, but based deeply upon fact.

Twenty-six years after Austen's death, her dear friend Anne Sharp has learned of the new Marsh test that can be conducted on human hair to discover if arsenic poisoning might have killed its owner. Torn between departing with the memento and learning the truth, she sends it off to be analyzed. The results will inspire her to write down a memoir of her friend and all of the events that lay out her theories and why. A catharsis act to release all the years of pent up frustration and anger of her dear friends death, which she truly believes was not natural, but by design. And, by someone, who had both strong motive and means in Jane's family circle.

The narrative encompasses almost a forty year span from 1805 when Anne and Jane are introduced at Godmersham Park, Kent and continues through 1843 with the result of the test that concludes her suspicions. What unfolds is a fascinating journey into the Austen family dynamics that will raise more than a few eyebrows. At times I was shocked, repulsed and appalled, but, I read on, and on, so mesmerized by the story that Miss Sharp reveals of her employer Edward Knight, his brothers James and Henry, their wives and their children. Like Catherine Morland obsessed with Gothic fiction I could not stop. However, unlike NORTHANGER ABBEY, THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS JANE AUSTEN is not a high burlesque parody. It is a serious mystery novel based on historical fact.

Ashford's thought-provoking writing is both honest and intriguing. Bare to the bone with human folly of biblical proportions, I am purposely vague in my plot description for fear of revealing anything that would spoil the discovery and surprise for the reader. Ashford has captured the Jane Austen and her intimate family circle within my mind's eye with sensitivity, perception and reproving guile. What unfolds is a gripping, page turning, toxic sugar plum unlike any other Austenesque novel I have ever read. Be brave. Be beguiled. Be uncertain. I dare you.

Laurel Ann, Austenprose
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 3.75 stars, August 6, 2013
THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS JANE AUSTEN begins twenty-six years after her death. Anne Sharp, Jane's friend and former governess to her niece Fanny, begins writing a memoir regarding her tenure in the Austen's employ and her meeting and friendship with Jane. Anne, with hindsight, is endeavoring to discover the who and the why behind Jane's death. A death Anne no longer believes was natural but is indeed murder.

In THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS JANE AUSTEN we meet and see the Austen's through the eyes of Anne Sharp. Ms. Sharp was governess to Fanny, Edward and Elizabeth Austen's eldest daughter. Anne lived with the family at Godmersham and the close proximity gives her "account" an intimate feel. I confess my curiosity has definitely been piqued. I'm most interested to discover exactly what is factual and what is extrapolation, especially regarding Henry and his sisters-in-law. Once Miss Sharp left the Austen's employ she stayed in touch with Anne and others via letters and occasional visits even after Jane's death.
This brings us to the mystery portion which is revealed with memories. Miss. Sharp's happenstance reading, years later, of an article in the paper makes her question Jane's death as natural. That foul play could be a definite possibility is confirmed with a new scientific test Miss Sharp has done on the lock of Jane's hair sent to her by Jane's sister, Cassandra. Miss Sharp begins a memoir, writing down her memories of events and discreetly questioning others to get theirs. Using these memories she "solves" the who and why mystery of Jane's death.
When I read a while back that Ms. Austen's death might not have been due to natural circumstances I was surprised. Some time later I saw THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS JANE AUSTEN and there was no way I could not read it. I don't claim to be a Janeite or an historical scholar. I'm just someone who has enjoyed Ms. Austen's books and some of the pastiches though nothing to do with zombies or sea monsters, I simply can't go there.
The "insider's look" at the Austen family was revealing while some mystery was still retained. They appear to be as disparate and dysfunctionally functional as any family then or now. There was an aspect that, if historically accurate, felt belabored to me to the point that it detracted from the story. A mention or two would have been sufficient. If it wasn't historically accurate I have to wonder at its inclusion and what point it served. Hindsight examination of the mystery allows us to play detective along side Miss Sharp. Will you reach the same conclusion she does or see the evidence differently? I admit to being surprised at the way some of the characters lives played out, especially as I had no real prior knowledge of them. I was especially disappointed in Fanny and most surprised about Anna and Henry.
With the one exception I very much enjoyed THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS JANE AUSTEN. If you're a fan of the Regency era or Jane Austen you should at least give the book a go. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Reviewed by IvyD for Manic Readers
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impossible to Put Down!, September 8, 2013
This review is from: The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen (Paperback)
As a huge fan of Jane Austen, I'll read anything that even mentions her. So when I read the synopsis for this book, it didn't just catch my attention, it demanded it. I was familiar with the controversy surrounding her untimely death - a majority of the speculation leaning towards natural causes, but with some questioning whether or not something more sinister was the cause. But because her life was so intriguing and her literary works so brilliantly written, the end of her life had never been more of a passing afterthought for me until I picked up this book. Researched with great detail, Ms. Ashford took what little known facts are available of Miss Austen's life and family and wove them in to a fictional story so capturing that it is impossible to put it down.

Told from the point of view of Anne, the governess to Jane's niece Fanny, the mystery begins from page one with a letter and lock of Jane's hair being sent to a lab for testing. Stated in the letter is Anne's belief that Jane did not die of natural causes, but had indeed been the victim of a murderous crime at the hand of someone close to her - quite possibly a member of her own family. It is from this point that the author beautifully blends the facts of Jane's last years with a story full of love, lust, jealousy, betrayal and murder.

At the heart of the story, is Jane's family. Each character that the author introduces is uniquely enjoyable. Even with their flaws, you easily fall in love with the Austen family. The relationships that Jane has with each one of them makes you question the thought that any of them could possibly have caused her harm. But when the story unfolds with secret love affairs and lies that could destroy lives, your love for them is set aside and it becomes a guessing game as to who has the biggest motive.

The sometimes strangely intimate relationship between Anne and Jane is the only part of the story that I really didn't care for. I know from reading about Jane that there was a relationship between the two of them and that they were good friends. I also know that the author had to spin their situation a little bit to make Anne's push for the truth far more believable. But to make it seem romantic in nature bothered me a bit. Not because I see anything wrong with it, but there is nothing that historically suggests her sexuality to be of the female persuasion. This is more of a personal preference than an actual complaint of the novel itself.

Overall, this book is one that I would recommend to anyone who is a lover of mystery or Jane Austen. It provides the reader with a delightful page turner and a little insight into the life of someone that most would consider a literary icon.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen, August 26, 2013
This review is from: The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen (Paperback)
Book #72 Read in 2013
The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen by Lindsay Ashford

This book puts an interesting spin on Jane Austen's early death. In this book, Miss Sharp, governess to Austen family members who becomes a close friend of Jane's, feels that someone had a hand to Jane dying at the early age of 41. Miss Sharp believes that someone poisoned Jane and she wants to prove it. This book talks about the interactions among Austen's family members, the way of life during that time, and Jane's rise as an author.

As a huge Jane Austen fan, I found this book's premise interesting. I enjoyed the writing style and the mystery aspect to it. The longing that Miss Sharp felt for Jane became a bit tiresome after a while but it served its purpose about her strong motivation to find out what truly happened to Jane Austen. Overall, I enjoyed the book.

I received a copy of this book from Sourcebooks in exchange for a review.

[...]
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 4.5 Stars! The Untold Secrets of the Austen Family, August 12, 2013
This review is from: The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen (Paperback)
Illicit liaisons, illegitimate children, sinister murders, scandalous secrets - things you would never associate with the Austen family, right? Can you imagine the quiet, country family from Hampshire embroiled with secrets of adultery and murder? Could you give any credence to the theory that Jane Austen's death was not from natural causes?

Our protagonist, Anne Sharp, can! Twenty-six years after Jane Austen's death, Anne (former governess to Fanny Knight) sends a lock of Jane's hair to be scientifically examined. When the results show an abnormally high amount of arsenic in Jane Austen's person at the time of her death, Anne must decide whether or not she wants to investigate the matter further. Should she share the private memoir she recorded of Jane Austen and their friendship? Should she expose the deep and dark secrets of the Austen family? Should she expose her own secrets?

Utterly fascinating! While at times, the theories presented in this novel were shocking and maybe a little far-fetched, I overall found this biographical fiction of Jane Austen's life and death to be utterly fascinating! Selecting Anne Sharp to be the narrator and protagonist was a brilliant choice! I've always found Jane Austen's friendship with her niece's governess intriguing - Was it frowned upon by her family? Did it influence Jane Austen's opinions and portrayals of governesses in her novels? It was a delight to see Jane Austen in the role of close friend, witness her actions and exchanges through Anne's eyes, and comprehend Anne's suspicions and opinions about the rest of the Austen family. In addition, I thought quite interesting (and daring) that the author portrayed Anne as concealing an unrequited passion for Jane Austen.

I adore stories like this that combine actual events and history with imagination and fiction. I enjoyed recognizing the references from Jane Austen's letters and novels, following the Austens in their travels to Godmersham, Bath, Worthing, and Chawton, and becoming immersed in the "unknown" secrets of the Austen family! So much of the story felt credible and logical that I cannot help but wonder if Lindsay Ashford's perceptive conjectures and plausible speculations are actually valid truths. SPOILER ALERT: I did feel some slight disappointment at the end when there was no definite confirmation of guilt or punishment of crimes, but I guess I do understand why Anne decided not to pursue justice and public vengeance.

The main reason I am giving this book 4.5 stars instead of 5 is because I felt it badly needed a "Fact or Fiction" appendix at the end of the book. There is an "Author's Note" and it does recommend two well-known and informative biographies to readers who want to "dissect" the novel, but I really wish the author added a couple more paragraphs to the "Author's Note" and elaborated more on what factual events triggered her imagination and extrapolation. Especially since many readers may not be inclined or able to immediately pick up the biographies referenced.

Sensational and stirring - The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen has definitely piqued my curiosity and aroused my suspicions...Now, more so than ever, I'm dying to know the mysterious cause ofJane Austen's death?!? And what about her relations...what really caused their deaths... I recommend this novel for inquisitive minds that want to delve into a presumably fictitious and thought-provoking tale of murder most sinister!

Austenesque Reviews
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kept me up late!, April 6, 2014
An intriguing take on the life and death of Jane Austin and complicated web of relationships amongst her extended family. Ashford has created a unique and compelling voice for the narrator, the governess of Jane's young niece, Fanny. Readers encounter the Austins through the lens of the narrator whose love for Jane sustains her during Jane's life, and leads to her obsession to solve the mystery of Jane's early death. I stayed up past 2am finishing this one!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but wordy., January 19, 2014
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It took me a long time to read. I wondered if I were ever going to finish. It was not a can't-put-down. Despite that, I did finish and did find it interesting.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Was the beloved author murdered to keep her silent?, October 16, 2013
This review is from: The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen (Paperback)
Did beloved author Jane Austen die of natural causes, or was her death brought about by more sinister means? Anne Sharpe, governess to Jane's niece, Fanny, suspects foul play. Anne and Jane had struck up a friendship, and together they discovered shocking Austen family secrets. When various members of the Austen family begin dying, no one connects the tragedies until Jane dies after having experienced unusual skin discoloration. Anne puts two and two together and suspects that Jane, as well as other members of the family, have all be poisoned. However, she has nothing but her suspicions and a potential clue left in Jane's last poem. Twenty years after Jane's death, Anne has a lock of Jane's hair analyzed and learns that it contains a high level of arsenic, confirming her suspicions. Who did it, why, and what can Anne do about it?

I am not a Jane Austen scholar, so I can't speak with any authority about the historical accuracy of the novel. I am certain that those who are Austen scholars might find plenty to object to in terms of the characterizations in the novel if they are not historically accurate. For example, Henry Austen is accused of much wrong-doing in the novel. How much he earned this characterization in reality I don't know. With that being said, I enjoyed the novel. There was just enough suspense to keep me hooked. It was interesting to get to "see" Jane Austen in a different light, not as author, but as character. I'm not so sure how realistic Anne Sharpe's character is. How many governesses in her situation would have sacrificed their jobs over qualms about the moral fiber of her employers? I have to say, though, the end was a bit disappointing. I found myself thinking, "That's it? After twenty years of obsessing over Jane's death, that's it?" Of course, maybe that's the point. After it all, after everything that Anne had uncovered, in the end she was powerless to bring the suspected murderer to justice.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hidden Passions. Greed. Deceit. Murder? All in Jane Austen's Life, August 10, 2013
This review is from: The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen (Paperback)
Hidden passions. Greed. Deceit. Murder? Enter the possible dark side of Jane Austen's life in Lindsay Ashford's page-turner, THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS JANE AUSTEN.

Miss Anne Sharpe, governess to Fanny, daughter of Jane Austen's brother, Edward, narrates a chilling story of appearances and how deceptive they can be. Henry Austen visits his brother Edward's family much too often, and mostly when Edward is away. Edward's wife, Elizabeth, spends a great deal of time with Henry. Is there something here in addition to brotherly affection?

Miss Sharpe discovers more and more of these curious incidents, and all involving Henry. Henry visits his brother, James, and James's wife, Maria, too. Henry and Maria? And then people die under similar suspicious circumstances. First, Elizabeth, then James, and finally, sadly, Jane herself. Is Maria involved? Perhaps this is all circumstantial evidence. Maybe, or maybe not.

Weaving imagination into the know facts of Jane Austen's life and tragically early death, Ms. Ashford spins an enthralling, dark tale of lust, deception and possible multiple murder seething beneath the surface of a seemingly proper, tranquil Regency family. Meticulously researched, the book delves deep into Jane's life, finding connections no one else has. The result is such a masterful story of the ease with which perception can be manipulated, that by the end of the book, you wonder if the author's shocking tale can possibly be correct.

For a startling version of Jane Austen's world that you've never encountered before, try THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS JANE AUSTEN.

ARC provided by Sourcebooks
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars AN INTERESTING READ! MURDER,NATURAL CAUSES??FRIEND,FAMILY OR FOE??, August 6, 2013
This review is from: The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen (Paperback)
THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF JANE AUSTEN is an interesting Historical Fiction set in 1843 England. What an interesting tale of the death of Jane Austen. Based partly on historical facts, partly on fiction and the author's own imagination. Filled with forbidden love, possible murder, secrets, family intrigue and of course the death of the beloved Jane Austen. Told in first person, some through letters,or a journal Jane left to her former governess and friend, Anne Sharp,but mostly told from Anne's recollection. The characters are engaging. The storyline is interesting as well as intriguing. What really happened to Jane, was she murdered, or did she actually just suffer a stroke and fell into unconsciousness for which she never recovered from and died? This story examines a few things,most interesting things, of secrets, theories,facts,for you see she was only forty-one at the time of her death. If you enjoy Jane Austen stories,mystery, suspense, than you will enjoy this title. Fast paced. Was Jane Austen murdered or did she die of natural causes and who wished her death? Family,friend,or foe! These are a few of the questions,which has caused much debate internationally. A very controversy debate,I might add! While, I feel it does make Jane's family a bit sinister,it does not take away from the possibilities of what actual happened to Jane Austen. You can draw your own conclusions to "The Mysterious Death of Jane Austen" by reading the story for yourself. An interesting read! Received for an honest review from the publisher.
RATING: 4
HEAT RATING: MILD
REVIEWED BY: AprilR, Review courtesy of My Book Addiction and More
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The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen
The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen by Lindsay Jayne Ashford (Paperback - August 6, 2013)
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