As Christmas of 1804 approaches, Jane Austen finds herself "insupportably bored with Bath, and the littleness of a town." It is with relief that she accepts a peculiar commission from her Gentleman Rogue, Lord Harold Trowbridge—to shadow his niece, Lady Desdemona, who has fled to Bath to avoid the attentions of the unsavoury Earl of Swithin.
But Jane's idle diversion turns deadly when a man is discovered stabbed to death in the Theatre Royal. Adding to the mystery is an unusual object found on the victim's body—a pendant that contains a portrait of an eye! As Jane's fascination with scandal leads her deeper into the investigation, it becomes clear that she will not uncover the truth without some dangerous playacting of her own....
Barron seamlessly weaves historical artists and actors into the third Jane Austen mystery , a delightful and lively tale that hinges on mistaken identity and unrequited love. Jane and the enigmatic Lord Harold Trowbridge investigate the murder of Richard Portal, manager of Bath's Theatre Royal, during a Christmastime masquerade at the home of the Dowager Duchess of Wilborough. Simon Marquis of Kinsfel, the Duchess's grandson and Trowbridge's nephew, is arrested. Readers know he's innocent, but not who did it or why. Essential to the solution is identification of an "eye portrait" found on the victim (carrying a miniature of a loved one's eye was a contemporary fad). An important subtext is the history of the famous Kemble/Siddons acting family. Suspicions alternate among those with possible motives: Lord Swithin, the rejected suitor of Kinsfel's sister Desdemona; actor Hugh Coyningham and his actress sister Maria; Hugh's workman, Smythe; Desdemona's newest swain, Colonel Easton; even portraitist Sir Thomas Lawrence. The crime, orchestrated by a clever murderer to kill one enemy and implicate others, is solved when Lord Harold realizes, "Appearances are everything," and Jane amends, "Even, perhaps, when they are meant to deceive." Period details bring immediacy to a neatly choreographed dance through Bath society led by this astute, well-matched pair.