Jane Austen, sailor? Her sixth adventure (Jane and the Stillroom Maid, 2000, etc.) lands her in the middle of an 1807 Southampton nautical mystery enmeshing her captain brother Frank. His friend Captain Tom Seagrave’s frigate has just been offered Frank after Seagrave is charged by his second-in-command with the murder of a French captain—this after the alien ship struck its colors. In the face of this unheard-of betrayal of a superior, Seagrave’s heiress wife Louisa is strangely unsupportive; in fact, she’s enraged that Seagrave’s seven-year-old sea charge was also killed in the recent battle. Seagrave’s naval accuser mysteriously disappears only to be replaced by a host of other accusing voices: Louisa’s aristocratic relatives; Navy Board member Sir Francis Farnham; beautiful Trafalgar widow Phoebe Carruthers, mother of the slain child; and a French prisoner of war held in the ancient Wool House, whose 500-year-old bars were first intended to keep thieves out. Etienne La Forge contests the claims of Seagrave’s lieutenant about the French captain’s death, but La Forge has his own interests and secrets. Sheltered Jane, entering this man’s world to save her brother’s friend at the same time she gets Frank his command, will prove more worldly than the seamen, often boys under ten.
Mystery fans may get impatient with the plotting, but they’ll still follow as Jane ventures ever further from the world conventionally assigned her real-life original—through an infected wool house into a seamy quayside district to the heart of her era’s military-industrial complex.