Jane Austen hopes the bracing Brighton sea air will lift her brother Henry’s spirits after the death of his wife. But quite a different fate awaits them.
How’s this for an unexpected development? While pausing to change teams, Jane Austen discovers young Catherine Twining bound and gagged in a traveling chaise. Only the bustle of the inn yard prevents a scene between the Austens and the kidnapper, infamous George Gordon, Lord Byron, the devilishly handsome poet whose escapades have led Lady Caroline Lamb, one of his many lovers, to label him “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” Jane befriends Catherine after they return her to her father, a dour, unpleasant retired general who insists that she marry an aging cleric. Her kindness involves both Austens in a scandalous murder when Catherine’s body is found in Byron’s bed. A chance meeting with an old acquaintance, Desdemona, the Countess of Swithin, whose close friend is another of Byron’s lovers, gives Jane entree to the famous Brighton home of the Prince Regent, a man whose title shields him from the consequences of his excesses. Though most of Brighton think Byron guilty, he has two alibis provided by a friend and Caro Lamb, whose insane passion for him knows no bounds. Jane, who thinks there’s more to the story, uses all her talents to get at the truth.
A delightfully literate pastiche—another winner in the acclaimed series (Jane and the Barque of Frailty, 2006, etc.).