Death of a Dowager

Written by Joanna Campbell Slan
Review by Diane Scott Lewis

Jane Eyre and her husband Rochester travel to London in 1821 to visit an ocular specialist who might be able to restore his eyesight, damaged when his first wife burned down his manor house. At the opera they are confronted by his former fiancée, Blanche, and her mother, Lady Ingram, who “cuts” them in a deliberate insult. Also, the king’s mistress, Marchioness Conygham, befriends Jane in an effort to retrieve a letter Jane possesses in which the king has admitted to a prior marriage to the Catholic Maria Fitzherbert. On the verge of his coronation, King George IV can’t afford to offend his Anglican populace. Jane promises the king she won’t reveal the letter. To temper the public snub by Lady Ingram, Jane visits the woman and her daughters for tea and coffee. The Dowager Lady Ingram drinks her coffee and drops dead. The flighty Blanche—still angry at being spurned by Rochester—accuses him of the deed. Now Jane must use her innate intellect to ferret out the killer, while deciding what to do with the scandalous letter.

Second in the Jane Eyre Chronicles, the novel nicely continues the adventures of Brontë’s intrepid heroine. The writing is full of appropriate period detail, but the mention of indecent French fashion is more 1790s than 1820s. Why Jane doesn’t just burn the letter must have been addressed in the previous book. Death of a Dowager is a breezy, cozy mystery, and Ms. Brontë would no doubt have approved of Slan’s depiction of Jane.