The Murder of Mr. Wickham – Claudia Gray

Jane Austen enthusiasts will love this mystery and others will find it an entertaining late Regency period romp through a British house party gone terribly wrong (or right if you see it as many might). As the title and descriptions of this mystery suggest, all of the characters were first found in Jane Austin novels, including the victim, the villainous Mr. Wickham. So, each has a well developed backstory. I read all of Austin, some of the novels more than once, and have seen every contemporary movie version of Emma. I was concerned I would have trouble “getting” the in jokes and comments based on the story lines Austin’s work. Not so. My recollections were totally refreshed and every single character, now with grown or growing children acted as you might expect them to with fifteen or twenty more years under their belts. For those of you who have only read one or no Austin it does not matter. You will learn enough of the backstories as necessary to thoroughly enjoy this without having read Austin at all.

Emma and George Knightley have inadvertently invited far too many guests, starting with the Wentworth’s, a naval officer and his wife and tenants on the estate, whose staircase collapsed. The Knightleys are putting them up. The Darcys and their son Jonathan are coming. Juliet Tilney, a seventeen year old girl who Emma wishes to mentor a bit will be there. As the guest list grows, they decide to make it a true house party, expected to last a month or so and to involve entertainment all the while. But then, on a dark and rainy night, the nefarious George Wickham arrives. He has recently found a way to legally defraud people of their money to such an extent that his wealth rivals that of the Knightleys’ and his former inlaws, the Darcys. We know right away that the Darcys have a strong antipathy to him for many wrongs he did to them and their families over many years. We know that Wentworth was one of his financial victims and Mr. Knightley’s brother was also a victim. Slowly, we find out that most of the guests had some strong reason to want Wickham dead.

Juliet and Jonathan, knowing they are both innocent, form a slightly improper and somewhat unlikely alliance to investigate Wickham’s murder as amateur sleuths. It is fascinating to see the world through Jonathan’s eyes and Jonathan through the world’s eyes, because Gray has written young Mr. Darcy as being a person on the autism spectrum long before there was a word for this disorder. He is a wonderfully drawn character with parents who instinctively help him conform as necessary to allow him to make his way through the many rules of Regency society.

Gray does a marvelous job of being true to the period, the fashions, the social settings and the expectations of the roles of the married and unmarried and of the wealthy. She perfectly captures, with Austin’s cynicism and humor the characters and nature of a small town and of random guests at a house party. She never overdoes things, yet the detail is all there. This is a great read, both fun and well-plotted. Everyone had such reason to be full of angst that I did not solve the mystery and I thought the resolution was perfect. Still smiling at the cleverness of it. Also, there is plenty of hope for additional entries and for this becoming a series. I’m waiting!

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