As one can surmise, Death of a Schoolgirl
is a continuation of the Charlotte Brontë classic, Jane Eyre.
The year is 1820, and Jane and her husband, Edward Rochester, have just welcomed their first child, a son, Ned, into their lives. Jane is flourishing in her new role as a mother after a tough birth, and Edward is still, slowly but surely, recovering from the grievous injuries he sustained during the fire that killed his first wife and destroyed Thornfield, his ancestral home. They are living on the estate in an old hunting lodge built by one of Edward’s forbearers with a minimal number of staff which includes an aunt from his mother’s side, Mrs. Fairfax, who is standing in as housekeeper.
Adèle Varens, Edward’s ward, and the reason that brought Jane to Thornfield in the first place (originally she was Adèle’s governess), is still in boarding school in London. Various reasons (Edward’s injuries, harsh winter storms, Jane’s confinement, the difficult birth and prolonged recuperation after) have kept Edward and Jane from visiting her at the school for quite a long while, and both sides have depended on a regular exchange of letters to maintain contact until circumstances allow them to be reunited.
Lately though, Adèle’s letters have been “off.” Not only are they quite unlike her usual vibrant missives, they are completely impersonal and appear to be the same communique copied time after time. Concern turns to alarm when the latest letter contains a secret message crying out for help and a scrap of paper which appears to be a threat against Adèle.
Jane and Edward decide that they must go to Adèle immediately to determine if she is really in danger or if it is some drama concocted by an obviously lonely child. Because the injuries to Edward’s remaining eye prevent him from traveling right away, Jane sets off for London alone. She is headed to the home of Edward’s best friend, Captain Augustus Brayton who currently serving in India. Jane is effusively welcomed by his wife, Lucy, who almost overwhelms her with affection and a desire to accept her as her new “sister.”
When in town, Lucy had been a regular visitor at the Alderton House School for Girls, checking in on Adèle for the Rochesters when they had been unable. However, in the past couple of months, a change of superintendent at the school had occurred and Lucy had been denied access to the girl for a variety of shady yet plausible reasons.
Jane sets out for the school herself the morning after her arrival only to be met with chaos at the school: one of the students had been found dead that morning! Jane is surprised to be greeted by the headmistress, an old friend, Miss Nan Miller, a former teacher and later colleague from her days at Lowood. Jane learns that Adèle discovered the dead girl, became hysterical, has been sedated with laudanum, and will most likely sleep until the drug wears off the next day.
Before she can make a decision on how to proceed, she is confronted by the new school superintendent, Mrs. Thurston, who mistakes Jane for the newly arrived German instructor (who has been delayed on the road.) Without being given the chance to set the woman straight, Jane is “dismissed” and rushed out of the school. Later that afternoon, however, Miss Miller turn up on the doorstep where Jane is staying to plead with her to come back to the school as “Miss Eyre” to serve as the temporary German and art teacher until the expected lady arrives. It seems the Bow Street Runners are investigating the death of the student as a homicide, and Jane is needed to help protect some of the young ladies until the murderer is revealed.
I really, really enjoyed this book. I loved the idea of a continuation of Jane and Rochester’s life together and look forward to many more. Jane, as a sleuth and protector, made perfect sense. The look and feel of the original story by Bronte is retained and enlivened by a good story with a lot of action, twists and turns. I highly recommend this book to cozy mystery readers and those that want a glimpse into what might have been had Jane Eyre kicked off a series.