Publication Date: May 3, 2022
About the Author:
Claudia Gray is the pseudonym of Amy Vincent. She is the writer of multiple young adult novels, including the Evernight series, the Firebird trilogy, and the Constellation trilogy. In addition, she’s written several Star Wars novels, such as Lost Stars and Bloodline. She makes her home in New Orleans with her husband Paul and assorted small dogs.
When the Knightleys of Donwell Abbey decide to hold a house party with the Darcys, the Wentworths, the Brandons, and the Bertrams, they’re not expecting an uninvited guest of Mr. Wickham’s ilk to come knocking on the door. Ever since his scandal of seducing Lydia Bennet, Wickham has been up to one scheme after another, and his latest scheme involves a speculation that’s swindled half of these good people out of their money. Emotions run high as Wickham begins to needle, taunt, and blackmail. But when his body is found with a fatal head wound, everyone is more relieved than upset. Magistrate Frank Churchill and the country folk surrounding Donwell Abbey are determined that the murderer must be found, however.
The young people of the company, Juliet Tilney and Jonathan Darcy, are the only people free of suspicion, and thus the only houseguests free to investigate the mysterious case of the murder of Mr. Wickham. Away from home on her own for the first time, Juliet discovers a host of secrets harbored by the houseguests. The peculiar Jonathan Darcy, who irritated her at first with his social idiosyncrasies, becomes more and more an ally–especially once he’s willing to admit that its very possible his own parents might have something to do with the murder. Will Juliet and Jonathan discover the murderer before one of the poor servants is wrongfully accused? Which one of Austen’s heroes or heroines had the perverse pluck and criminal courage to do in Mr. Wickham?
If you look at the most recent reviews I’ve posted on this blog, you’ll see that I have a weakness for Jane Austen spinoffs. This novel was both a delight and a frustration, with heavier emphasis on the former. I loved seeing what the author did with the characters of Darcy and Elizabeth. The tragic story of their dealings with Wickham and the rift that it created between the two of them was touching and believable. The Knightleys were also charming to watch, especially when Mr. Knightley got his mild digs in at the inept Frank Churchill. Colonel Brandon and Marianne, newlyweds at the point of this novel, were interesting to watch as they navigated their new relationship–Brandon’s uncertainty about whether Marianne actually loved him was poignant.
The sticking point came for me with the Wentworths and the Bertrams. Granted, the difficulty with an ensemble cast is that not everyone can be wonderful and flawless or there’s not enough tension in the story. However, Captain Wentworth’s minor flaws from the original novel were played up heavily here, and it was a little irksome to see a hero I much enjoy in the original fall so low. The Bertrams, for me, seemed to miss the mark entirely–they were far more of a caricature than any of the other couples, and seemed almost a vehicle for critiquing the values of Jane Austen’s day (that would have been held by the Anglican church) and inserting an anachronistic acceptance of modern sexual mores instead.
Jonathan Darcy, a character who had all the markers of being on the spectrum, was a delightful character, portrayed with sensitivity. His inability to read between the lines or understand social niceties came off with winsome charm. Juliet Tilney, although far more levelheaded than her mother from Northanger Abbey, still enjoyed the air of Gothic mystery, prowling around her own abbey surroundings in the dark of knight. The interaction between the two was believable and endearing.
All in all, I enjoyed this chance to revisit Austen’s characters and surmise who might have had the most reason to rid the world of the worst Austen villain of them all.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
“[Y]oung Mr. Darcy’s path too him directly by her desk. She pushed the letter to the very edge–where his fingers deftly snatched it. The paper had vanished into his pocket before he reached the corner. I have corresponded with an unmarried man, Juliet thought. How unladylike. How unfortunate for public morals that being unladylike feels so . . . exciting.”The Murder of Mr. Wickham, by Claudia Gray