arsenic with austen book coverReviewed by Kelly Ferjutz

Although Jane Austen does not appear in this book as a character, quotes from her books appear at the beginning of each chapter. They sort of hint at the coming events, but not always. They’re still clever, though. As is this entire book.

Fifty-something, recently-widowed college professor Emily Cavanaugh is fairly happy in her position in Portland, when she is informed of an inheritance. A biggie inheritance, which will require her presence in a coastal village some three hours distant. Her dearly-loved, very wealthy great aunt Beatrice Runcible had apparently owned a goodly part of Stony Beach, and apart from a few more-than-token bequests, the remainder now belongs to Emily.

But Emily has a past in Stony Beach, and will run smack into him very soon after her arrival in Windy Corners, the huge old mansion in which her aunt lived, with a housekeeper/cook, Agnes Reeves, and a super grumpy cat, with the fabulous name of Bustopher Jones. She has no idea that her first love is now Sheriff Luke Richards – and he’s not forgotten her, either. He is busily trying to cope with the under-the-table maneuvering by the mayor and a real estate agent gaining control of a large portion of Stony Beach which will then be sold for big bucks to a developer.

Most of the town’s inhabitants are pleased to continue as they have been, but they’re the more peaceable kind. Unfortunately, it seems they’re becoming outnumbered by the rebels. Of course, there is also the handsome scoundrel cousin Brock Runcible, nephew of Aunt Beatrice’s husband, who spends a lot of time trying to romance Emily. It seems to her that this whole situation is somewhat similar to Persuasion, which she devours (again!) after happily finding it in the mansion’s library.

It soon becomes apparent to both Emily and Luke that Aunt Beatrice was poisoned, and the death of the aged housekeeper/cook is suspected of being murder, as well. It’s not easy putting all the pieces together in order to solve the crimes – if indeed they are so – and not be caught in a trap themselves. Plus, now she must find someone to cook and keep the house together, because she may be heading back to her job before too long, and cannot leave the house to fend for itself. And if not, how can she possibly bring her own two cats into this tempestuous situation, controlled by old Bustopher himself?

It may be stretching the bounds just a bit, but that puzzle also has a very satisfactory ending with the arrival of young Katie and her darling daughter, Lizzie. Katie is wise beyond her young years, and willing to work hard and long hours to earn shelter for her and her baby.

I totally loved Arsenic with Austen. It is a cozy mystery, (my favorite kind) but it is also very literate and dryly witty with charming characters and a terrific setting – all of which bode well for the next book in the series. I shall watch for it with great eagerness! Unless they like profanity and gore, any reader should be able to appreciate and enjoy this book. Well done!

First and foremost, Kelly is a reader, then a writer and editor. She adores Regency-set novels, and cozy mysteries. Every now and then, however, she finds something else to enjoy if it has a great premise with characters who belong in there, and fabulous writing! She writes under her own name, as well as her pen-name, Hetty St. James.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Minotaur Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.