From the desk of Sophia Rose:
Outside of a long-lost manuscript, the discovery of an unknown Jane Austen letter is enough to set every Jane Austen fan into a tizzy. Hence, I was primed with excitement when I spotted this latest Jane K. Cleland title in her popular Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series. Not having read the previous series installments, I was a tad wary of starting with this one, but Jane Austen’s Lost Letters turned out to be a cozy, entertaining installment that stood alone just fine.
Antique shop owner and local TV personality, Josie Prescott, is in the middle of filming a segment for Josie’s Antiques on site in New Hampshire at her antique shop. She has invited two manuscript and autograph authenticators for this segment to share their findings on a signed first edition Beatrix Potter book. Both specialists are known locally: Oliver Crenshaw, a rare books
bookshop owner, and Dr. Gloria Moreau from the university. Oliver’s mother is his guest and Gloria’s assistant Ivan is hers. The first day’s show is going well, and Josie hit it off with both as they describe their processes and findings on the antique book.
Then, during a pause in the shooting, Josie is told someone needs to speak to her. She meets a mysterious woman who claims to have known her dad well and the woman gives Josie a package before swiftly leaving. Josie thought she knew all of her late dad’s friends and acquaintances but gets an odd vibe from this meeting. She hesitates and then opens the package to find art of her father’s, a photo of him and this Veronica Sutton, and two letters signed by Jane Austen.
The mystery of the letters and Veronica’s tie to Josie’s dad in the past have a great deal of her attention and concern, but then the next day of filming, one of her professional guests, Gloria, is found murdered behind Josie’s business after a stranger was seen on the property. Meetings with the police chief who knows Josie’s prowess at crime solving leads Josie to realizing that the stranger must be joined on the suspect list by Oliver and his overbearing mother when their pasts come to light. Then another murder happens, and someone takes pot shots at Josie. She needs the answers to both mysteries before she becomes victim number three.
It took me some time to develop a taste for the cozy mystery genre and I’m still rather finicky, but I’ve come to appreciate them. For instance, I love the idyllic settings and situations of the prime character. In this case, a pretty New Hampshire coastal town in the fall, the antiques’ shop where she works, a fabulous husband and beach house she shares with him, and oh yes, discovering potential long lost Jane Austen letters. To this, I need to add that I discovered the author is an Austen fan and understands just how exciting the discovery would be.
Josie was a likeable lead character. She has some educated guesses, packs her own gun, and even knows how to use it. However, she works with law enforcement and doesn’t try to suppress or take over the investigation. I suppose it helps that she is an important consultant to the police force now that there have been thirteen successful mysteries solved prior to this one.
The mystery with the Austen letters and the murders was what got my attention the most. I loved all the descriptions of the authentication process for the books, letters, and the antique world in general. I think if I had read the series in order I might have been more vested in her personal mystery about her dad, though not to say that I didn’t like this storyline because it was engaging, too. There was a small pool of suspects for the murder mystery, and they had pretty much the same opportunities and motives. I had no idea who did it, but I had a pretty good idea of the why. I even had an inkling about the family mystery, too. I enjoyed getting to the solution, though it took me by surprise.
I probably should point out that if new readers to the series spot this one by the title and the blurb and think that there will be a strong Austen focus, well… not really. The process of authentication of the letters does happen, but the focus is the case itself and the mystery about Josie’s dad and Veronica and not Jane Austen.
All in all, it was a solid cozy mystery, and the series seems to be holding strong through fourteen books now. I loved the location and setting, and Josie was a likeable lead character. I would recommend this book. Give this series a try if you are a cozy mystery fan who loves historical artifacts and antiques.
4 out of 5 Stars
- Jane Austen’s Lost Letters, Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery (Book 14), by Jane K. Cleland
- Minotaur Books (December 14, 2021)
- Hardcover, & eBook (304) pages
- ISBN: 978-1250779380
- Genre: Contemporary Mystery
We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Minotaur Books © 2021; text Sophia Rose © 2021, austenprose.com