A royal summons embroils veteran Regency sleuth Jane Austen.
Jane’s come to London to negotiate the publication of her next novel and stays to nurse her brother Henry as he recovers from a near-fatal fever. His Highness the Prince Regent’s own court physician, Matthew Baillie, helped save Henry’s life, and when word gets back to HRH of Jane’s stay in London, he bids her come work in the library at Carlton House. One doesn’t decline a prince’s invitation, but Jane gets no chance to write. Instead, she discovers Col. Ewan MacFarland twitching and retching on the library floor. She wipes his lips with her handkerchief, and he utters the words “Waterloo map” and dies. When Jane examines the handkerchief, she discovers fine evergreen needles in traces of his vomit; her brother’s personal physician suggests they might be needles of the poisonous yew. She returns to Carlton House to find a watercolor map that MacFarland hid in a book in the royal library just before he was stricken. On the back of the map is a man’s last words to his beloved, with a numerical cipher and instructions to guard the map because the emperor will have need of it. Although it won’t do Napoleon much good in his exile after Waterloo, someone values the map enough to attack Jane and stab Dr. Baillie nearly to death. Jane can think of only one man to trust with the map: the artist Benjamin West’s son, Raphael, who is also an artist and a spy for the government. The race is on to break the map’s code before whoever has already been desperate to kill for it can seize it by any means necessary.
Barron, who’s picked up the pace since Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas (2014), portrays an even more seasoned and unflinching heroine in the face of nasty death and her own peril.