"More accurately, Lady Catherine conversed. Anne listened silently, her attention straying to other parts of the busy room as her mother soliloquied unchecked. Wandering concentration, however, was endemic to participants in Lady Catherine's conversations. It was how one survived them." Chapter 2
Austenesque author Carrie Bebris ventures into her fourth excursion in the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mysteries series with the recently released, THE MATTERS AT MANSFIELD: OR THE CRAWFORD AFFAIR continuing the story of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy after their marriage in Jane Austen's novel PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Once again we join the famous couple as they investigate crime and murder among the gentry of Regency England involving many familiar characters from Jane Austen's novels.
It has been two summers since the Darcy's marriage in 1803 and the story opens at Riverton Hall in Buckinghamshire, the ancestral home of Mr. Darcy's mother Anne Fitzwilliam. The present Earl is giving a ball in honor of his new fiancé and the Darcy's are house guests along with other family members; sister Georgiana Darcy, cousins Colonel Fitzwilliam and Anne de Bourgh, and her mother the officious and overbearing Lady Catherine de Bourgh still giving unsolicited advice and talking a blue streak.
Lady Catherine's hen pecked and sickly daughter Anne is now 28 years old and being micro-managed by her mother to within an inch of her life. Lady Catherine is determined to secure a prominent match for her daughter since the mate chosen for her since birth, Fitzwilliam Darcy, defied her wishes and married that `gentleman's daughter', Elizabeth Bennet. Unbeknownst to Anne, her mother brokers a marriage to the son of a family friend and neighbor Lord Sennex, of Hawthorn Manor. This is purely a match of convenience as the future husband is a hot tempered Caliban, about as suitable a love match for fragile and retiring Anne as the odious Rev. Mr. Collins was for Elizabeth Bennet in the original novel.
Certain that her mother will chain her to an abysmal marriage, Anne makes an uncharacteristically bold move and elopes with a man unknown to her family or friends, Henry Crawford of Everingham in Norfolk. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam pursue the couple to Gretna Green, Scotland only to discover that they are too late. The irregular marriage has already taken place and duly consummated. At Lady Catherine's biding, they escort the couple back to Riverton Hall for an audience with her Ladyship. Along the road they are detained in a country village quite familiar to Henry Crawford, Mansfield Park, the last village in England where we would like to be stranded. Unavoidably he must deal with the village locals and many of the characters in Jane Austen's novel Mansfield Park such as Sir Thomas Bertram, Mrs. Norris and his former paramour, the spiteful Maria Rushworth. While there, a murder is discovered. Who, I will not reveal, but suffice it to say, if you ever felt the desire to kill off one of Jane Austen's most undeserving cads, you will not be disappointed.
Ms Berbris is truly fond of a good Austen quote skillfully applying them as a epigraph to open each of the chapters. In that spirit, I shall paraphrase a quote by Lady Catherine de Bourgh from Pride and Prejudice and exclaim that with THE MATTERS AT MANSFIELD Bebris "has given us a treasure." I was continually charmed by her imaginings of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy as the Nick and Nora Charles of the Regency set, exhibiting all the sensibilities that any Janeite would appreciate in an Austen pastiche; respect for the original author's style, observance of period detail, reverence to the characters, and interjection of circuitous humour and lighthearted banter, all combined in a well thought out and absorbing whodunit that keeps us guessing and engaged to the last. My only disappointment was that it ended all too quickly, and I hope that the next novel currently being penned about Austen's novel Emma will suspend our pleasure for a bit longer.
Laurel Ann, Austenprose