Death of a Schoolgirl by Joanna Campbell Slan is the first in the historical cozy mystery series featuring Jane Eyre as an amateur sleuth (available August 7, 2012).
Come on, confess. When you see the name Joanna Campbell Slan, your first thought is the highly entertaining mystery series featuring Kiki Lowenstein, a spunky scrapbooker who manages to get involved in murder no matter where she turns. Who will ever forget Kiki’s dumpster dive for a lost paycheck that turned up a severed human body part?
Well, today’s joyful news is that Slan is introducing a new series featuring Charlotte Bronte’s classic heroine Jane Eyre as an amateur sleuth. Death of a Schoolgirl is set in 1820. Jane is happily married to her beloved Edward Rochester and they have an adorable son called Ned. They now live in Ferndean Manor and Mrs. Fairfax has agreed to return as their housekeeper.
Initially I feared I would have trouble thinking of Jane as Mrs. Rochester. I’d never looked past the ending of Jane Eyre, and never expected to have that opportunity. For any reader who has the same hesitancy, rest assured that Slan avoids this potential pitfall by having Jane refer to herself as Jane Eyre Rochester and by introducing characters who knew Jane before her marriage and call her by her maiden name. Here Jane describes her new life:
At first, however, our new roles caused friction. Mrs. Fairfax was accustomed to running the master’s household. But now I—who had once been hired by her to serve as governess for Mr. Rochester’s ward, Adele—was her mistress. She would tell cook to make lamb chops and I would ask for veal. Cook would take advantage of our confusion and serve up leftover pigeon pie. Mrs. Fairfax demanded that we eat on good china and drink from crystal glasses. I would have been content with an old chipped plate and a tin mug.
Rochester’s ward, Adele Varens, is now in a boarding school in London, and sends a very odd letter begging for help. Jane decides she must visit Adele to make sure the child is safe and healthy. Rochester is still unable to see, due to the fire at Thornfield Hall that nearly killed them both, so it is decided that he will remain at home.
And so the adventure begins. Jane’s travel is fraught with peril, and she is accosted and robbed along the way. She finally arrives at the school, and immediately recognizes that there are significant difficulties afoot. When the headmistress believes Jane to be a new teacher whose arrival has been expected, Jane decides to play the part to protect Adele until she can determine exactly what is going on within the walls of Alderton House School for Girls. Jane Eyre Rochester’s unassuming deportment and keen, analytical mind bring a swift conclusion to the mystery.
This is a beautifully written story that fully reflects the mores and social conventions of England in the early nineteenth century. Joanna Campbell Slan has marked Death of a Schoolgirl with her own indelible brand of suspense and intrigue while adhering to the cadence and restrained emotional atmosphere of the original Bronte novel. Anyone who has ever read and loved Jane Eyre will be captivated by Death of a Schoolgirl.
Terrie Farley Moran’s recent collection of short stories, THE AWARENESS and other deadly tales, is currently available in e-format for the Nook and the Kindle. Terrie blogs at Women of Mystery and her short story “Fontaine House” can be found in the August 2012 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.