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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Matters at Mansfield: Or, The Crawford Affair by Carrie Bebris

Please note, that while the following review doesn't contain spoilers for The Matters at Mansfield there are slight spoilers for Mansfield Park. Read on at your peril!

Book cover: The Matters at Mansfield by Carrie Bebris
Carrie Bebris has written a number of these mysteries, each with a link to one of Jane Austen’s novels and featuring Mr and Mrs Darcy as the investigators. I believe this is the fourth book in the Mr & Mrs Darcy Mysteries series, but it read fine as a stand alone. I was immediately drawn into the story by my affinity with a scene of exhaustion that most parents would be familiar with – dealing with a child going through a spell of teething.
“It is a truth less frequently acknowledged, that a good mother in possession of a single child, must be in want of sleep.”
Mr and Mrs Darcy are staying at a friend's country house, in company with their infant daughter, Lily-Anne (query – does anybody know when hyphenating names became usual? It seems too modern to me, but I could well be wrong) and her nursemaid. Also at the party are Lady Catherine and her daughter Miss Anne de Bourgh, and Colonel Fitzwilliam.  After spending interminable time settling her daughter Elizabeth goes back to her bedroom, still in the early hours of the morning. She bumps into Anne de Bourgh, fully dressed, who proffers some hasty excuses for her presence out of her bed in the middle of the night, though she needn’t have bothered, due to poor Elizabeth’s sleep deprived state!
“The thought had not so much as entered Elizabeth’s mind, which was primarily occupied with calculating how many hours; sleep she might yet manage to capture if she nodded off immediately upon reaching her pillow.”
However, the next day Elizabeth thinks things over, and comes to the conclusion that Anne needs help to break away from Lady Catherine’s control. She raises this with Mr Darcy, who here is shown to have a view of his cousin that I always suspected when reading Pride and Prejudice:
“To Darcy, his cousin was merely a vassal in Lady Catherine’s tightly controlled court. In all the years of their growing up, he had never thought of her as an independent being, and seldom thought of her at all.”
Lady Catherine has plans for Anne, however. Now the upstart Mrs Darcy has blighted Lady Catherine’s matrimonial ambitions Lady Catherine must make other plans for her daughter, and this time she is holding out for a titled gentleman, doing her best to manipulate the doddering Lord Sennex into agreeing a match between his son and Anne. However, Anne has been considering whether to break out from her mother’s control, and Elizabeth inadvertently encourages Anne to embark on a very rash course of action involving a gentlemen who can be met in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, the charming Mr Henry Crawford.

Through a series of events including an accidental injury to Anne, many of the party end up stuck in an inn until Anne is enough recovered to be moved. Unfortunately for Mr Crawford, it’s in an area of the country where he is about as popular as smallpox – the inn is close to the environs of Mansfield Park!  In relation to the events of Mansfield Park we are just about at the end, although for me the timeline didn’t quite work, as I think Fanny’s marriage wouldn’t have taken place until things were more settled with Maria – here Maria is staying with her Aunt Norris, who is trying to effect a reconciliation with Mr Rushworth.

It was refreshing to see Mr Crawford finally be held to account for some of his wrongdoing, he’s always got away with things in the past. He is fairly unapologetic for his behaviour, which I thought was exactly in accordance with his character, since he’s never tried to behave as he should in preference to behaving as he wants:
“I realize I have acted badly, but if my attempt to explain is going to elicit naught but hostility I must beg leave to postpone further discussion of the matter.”
It turns out that Mr Crawford has behaved much worse than at first was thought, and his sins are beginning to catch up with him. Soon there is a dead body to account for, which is followed by other deaths... but who is responsible?

I quite enjoy cosy mysteries, and I enjoyed this one, although since I am no Miss Marple I only worked out part of the plot in advance, and the rest of it I realised not long before all was revealed! I am not sure it is true to say in this case that Mr and Mrs Darcy investigated, instead Mrs Darcy was first exhausted with the demands of her child, and then by the demands of her tiresome aunt by marriage! However, the time that Mr and Mrs Darcy spent together was really delightful, I liked to see their close relationship and to see that Mrs Darcy had lost none of her teasing, saucy speeches! There were some lovely humorous parts, mostly in the dialogue between the Darcys or in their private thoughts, e.g.:
“Darcy shifted in his chair and stole what he hoped was a discreet glimpse at his pocketwatch. Midnight – a mere six minutes since his last covert glance. His suspicions were confirmed.
He would die at this card table.”
I am so glad I picked this book up, I really enjoyed it, and I’d like to read other books in the series. There are quite a few of them. In order, they are: Pride and Prescience, Suspense and Sensibility, North by Northanger, The Matters at Mansfield, The Intrigue at Highbury and The Deception at Lyme. According to Carrie Bebris’ website she is currently writing one related to Sanditon, which is planned for completion in 2014.

4 star read

Book Covers: Mr & Mrs Darcy Mysteries by Carrie Bebris

15 comments:

  1. I have never heard of these. Must go on my list.

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    1. I would definitely like to read more of them. I'd been meaning to read them for a while but for a long time they were among the more expensive books on my wishlist so I kept overlooking them. It was nice to read something a bit different in the genre.

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  2. oh very interesting Ceri! Apart from watching Death comes to Pemberley I haven't read any mysteries let alone P&P ones. Oh I agree with the excerpt about Darcy's opinion on Anne! I think like you the bits that would appeal to me would be the insight into Darcy and Elizabeth's marriage. Will add to my tbr list also thanks

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    1. I really enjoyed the bits when Lizzy and Darcy were together, I would have liked more of them. It was a bit unusual for me to be reading about these characters in a mystery rather than a romance, but I really enjoyed the book and I'd definitely like to try the others.

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  3. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I also liked The Intrigue at Highbury and The Deception at Lyme...from what I can remember. It has been so long since I've read them. I really should keep a rating for the books I've read!!:)

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    1. Hi Kelli, That's the reason I started writing reviews, when I couldn't remember what I thought of a book once some time had passed. Some I remember really clearly, even if I've only read them once, but for others I need to refer to my review to aid my memory!

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  4. I've heard good things about these mysteries, and this one does sound like fun, especially when Mr. and Mrs. Darcy get to converse. Not sure how I feel about Henry C being even more dastardly than depicted in MP--I've always had a bit of a weakness for him myself.

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    1. I am a closet Crawfords fan too. I think they are very attractive to a modern audience. He is not so much dastardly as somebody who is always living in the moment and who optimistically thinks everything will turn out alright. He does behave worse here than in MP though, and that is saying something!

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  5. I really like this series and I'm glad she's going to have another one soon. I like that characters from the different novels are intermingled.

    I was just looking over your comments on goodreads and had a laugh at "stupid oclock". Lol I wondered, too, about the hyphenated name. It does seem unusual given the historicals I've read but I guess the Darcys didn't want people to call her just 'Lily'? I don't know.

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    1. I don't know when they first used Lily as a name either, the whole name, including the hyphenation just seemed wrong to me, especially given the fact that Darcy's family seems to have been big on naming after somebody, e.g. Anne de Bourgh, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, I think it's more likely she'd have been named after somebody else. But a really enjoyable book, I'd definitely like to read more of the series.

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    2. The book in which Lily was born explains why that name was chosen. It was a pretty significant piece of the story, from what I remember. I think it was the 2nd book but I couldn't swear to it.

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    3. Ah right, thank you, that explains the name a bit, is it the baby's real name or a nickname? Names are funny things, they can often be older than you'd suppose. I hope at some point I'll get round to the rest of the series but there are quite a few to read, I'll have to keep my fingers crossed that they go on sale.

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    4. No, it's her real name. In a way,she was named in memory of someone. I didn't really think the name was odd, as it's a flowern just that it was hyphenated.

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    5. It just seems odd to see somebody named after a flower then, I thought it was a later, Victorian thing. I just didn't think flower names were used as girl's names then. I had a google to see if there were notable people called Lily and there are some from the mid-late 1800s but seemed to be nicknames rather than given names. But like I said, I could well be mistaken.

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