Monday, April 25, 2022

Review: The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray

Jane Austen's characters are unmistakable. Just how these characters would get along together has always been a fascinating thing to consider. It goes without saying that Mr. Wickham would be no one's favorite (not even Lydia's, as we already know long before the end of Pride and Prejudice) but would any reader imagine that one of Austen's other characters would murder him? That is exactly the premise here. Emma and George Knightley throw a house party for a who's who of Jane Austen's characters in this excessively diverting mystery where, good news (and spoiler alert!) Mr. Wickham, more odious than ever, is murdered.

The Knightleys, having determined to host a month long house party, have invited a rather disparate collection of people to Donwell Abbey. There is Emma Knightley's cousin Colonel Brandon and his new bride Marianne; George Knightley's old school chum Mr. Darcy with his wife Elizabeth and son Jonathan; Juliet Tilney, the teenaged daughter of novelist Catherine Tilney and her husband Henry; Knightley's relations Edmund and Fanny Bertram; and Captain and Anne Wentworth, who are letting Hartfield from the Knightleys but who have had to move out because of a collapsed staircase. What starts as a slightly awkward party promises to smooth out over the month, at least until Mr. Wickham arrives uninvited and unwelcome. A terrible storm ensures that he must stay in the Abbey despite his being reviled by almost everyone at the party. The Darcys have long had reason to dislike him but he has caused even further grief and destruction in their family. As for the others, he had unsavory or ruinous financial or personal dealings with almost all of them so they found him no more welcome than the Darcys do. But they all endured him until the morning that Juliet Tilney stumbled over him quite dead.

Jonathan Darcy, who has been making a hash of the party, and specifically of his interactions with Juliet Tilney (he's very definitely neurodivergent), ends up teaming up with Juliet, to try and solve the murder. Their investigating has to stay within the acceptable bounds of interactions between unmarried young men and women of the time but in and amongst the eavesdropping, conjecture, and otherwise creative ways to be a part of magistrate Frank Churchill's questioning, there is also a blush of courtship. Jonathan and Juliet are the only two members of the house party who can be ruled out as suspects as each of the other characters' histories with Wickham and fibs about their movements the night of the murder start to come to light. The murder also exposes the state of the marriages of Austen's beloved characters, who did not all go off to have completely untroubled happily ever afters as it turns out. From misunderstandings to doubts, anger to shame, these marriages are not perfect and the underlying tensions complicate the search to uncover the murderer. The novel is full of secrets and misdirections and as the reader turns the pages, they wonder just who killed Wickham, changing their mind several times as the story progresses. The characters retain their personalities from Austen's stories and it is interesting to see how those personalities interact, how they sometimes judge each other by the standards of their time, and how they might possibly have been able to commit murder. One of the storylines was just a bit too anachronistic but it served its purpose in creating a reason for one of the characters to fear Wickham's presence. The mystery as a whole was a delight and the resolution was thoroughly satisfying. Wickham deserved what he got and the reader gets to enjoy this tale of Wickham's richly justified demise.

For more information about Claudia Gray and the book, check our her author site, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, look at the book's Goodreads page, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Laurel Ann from Austenprose and publisher Vintage Books for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kristen. I am glad you enjoyed it. I thought that combining all of the main characters from Austen's novels was very clever and the mystery elements intriguing. It was fun to be back in the Austen universe.


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