Book Review by Brenda S. Cox
“Trusting providence [God] seemed to lead to trusting people, as well. How differently the world appeared, when one stopped cringing away from it and faced it in the light.”—Fanny Bertram in The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray
Who doesn’t love a cozy mystery? Gather a large group of unconnected people for an English house party at a manor house. There should be one member of the party who is hated by all, though each has his or her own reasons. Snow them in or otherwise disconnect them from civilization, and the nasty one of course gets murdered (in the middle of the night while somehow most people are wandering around the house). Then an incompetent policeman tries to figure it out, and one or two members of the group actually uncover “whodunnit,” at great danger to themselves.
Now in this fun cozy mystery, The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray, the manor house belongs to George and Emma Knightley. Their guests are some of our favorite people—Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy, Marianne and Colonel Brandon, Anne and Frederick Wentworth, and Fanny and Edmund Bertram. Each has a plausible reason for being there. Of course, Wickham also shows up, and he gets himself deservedly killed (the title told you this already).
Frank Churchill, local magistrate, is the incompetent sleuth (with a flirtatious daughter). The Darcys’ oldest son (who we can see is mildly autistic) and the Tilneys’ teenage daughter try to solve the mystery, while not transgressing propriety any more than absolutely necessary–sort of.
Well, all that would have sold me on the book already. It’s also beautifully written and consistent with Austen’s characterizations. Gray has even postulated dates for each novel’s events and given the characters appropriate ages (though she’s made Sense and Sensibility rather late, apparently in order to make Marianne and Brandon newlyweds, which is fine).
Now, the stresses of Wickham’s dastardy toward each family, and then the suspicions aroused by his murder, awaken marital tensions in each couple. (The Darcys are also grieving the death of a loved one, and Fanny is keeping a secret.) So we get to see each pair struggling to communicate better, and growing in their marriage relationship. To me, the most interesting couple is Fanny and Edmund, whose conversations deal with deeper issues of judgment, mercy, and family loyalty.
Of course there is also a delightful budding romance between Jonathan Darcy and Juliet Tilney. After a rocky start, Juliet is very accepting of Jonathan’s quirks (which we would call being “on the spectrum”). When he tells her that when he gets overwhelmed, he rocks back and forth, she says she would not mind that. She adds, “It is peculiar, of course, . . . but my mother has often told me that most people are really very peculiar, once you get to know them. The only difference is in how well we hide our peculiarities. Your habit seems harmless.”
By the way, Juliet’s mother, Catherine Tilney, is not in this story. But we’re told she has become a successful novelist. Hint to Ms. Gray: I’d like to meet Catherine in another story . . .
In the story, Wickham, the charming rogue, has deceived various characters into investing in a false scheme and stolen their money; not surprising. (It seems a little less likely that after this has been revealed, he’s still legally able to extort them into giving the money they promised him.) It’s also plausible that when he discovers a compromising letter, he steals it and holds it for ransom. (Whether that letter would have been written and mailed around the world through various hands in the first place seems less likely to me.) All this fits Wickham’s character very well. And his final demise is appropriate.
If you enjoy mysteries and sequels to Jane Austen, I highly recommend The Murder of Mr. Wickham to you. I loved being with all these characters again for an extended time. The themes are good, and the ending is satisfying. Great summer reading! See Claudia Gray’s website for more on her wide range of books. (This review also appeared on Jane Austen’s World.)
Fanny and Edmund deal with these difficult questions: Is it right to keep a secret in order to protect someone you love? If that person is doing something you consider wrong, do you confront them or just keep loving them and accepting them? When is it time for judgment, and when is it time for mercy? What better reflects our loving, merciful God?
2 thoughts on “The Murder of Mr. Wickham, by Claudia Gray”
I second your wish to see Catherine Tilney née Morland in a future book, shame she doesn’t appear in this one, but it sounds like a great read in every other way. Thank you for the review!
You’re welcome, Kevin! I hope you’ll enjoy the book.