Friday, 6 May 2022

The Murder of Mr Wickham by Claudia Gray - Review

Blog tour graphic: The Murder of Mr Wickham by Claudia Gray
One of my favourite genres to read aside from Austenesque is cosy mysteries.  So when the chance came to read a book that was the two combined I obviously jumped at it. The Murder of Mr Wickham by Claudia Gray has an enticing title for any Austenesque reader, and when you read the blurb and find out that there are characters from a number of Austen’s novels then it draws you in all the more. I’ll share the book description with you and then move on to my review of the book.

Book cover: The Murder of Mr Wickham by Claudia Gray
Book Description

A summer house party turns into a thrilling whodunit when Jane Austen's Mr. Wickham—one of literature’s most notorious villains—meets a sudden and suspicious end in this brilliantly imagined mystery featuring Austen’s leading literary characters.

The happily married Mr. Knightley and Emma are throwing a party at their country estate, bringing together distant relatives and new acquaintances—characters beloved by Jane Austen fans. Definitely not invited is Mr. Wickham, whose latest financial scheme has netted him an even broader array of enemies. As tempers flare and secrets are revealed, it’s clear that everyone would be happier if Mr. Wickham got his comeuppance. Yet they’re all shocked when Wickham turns up murdered—except, of course, for the killer hidden in their midst.

Nearly everyone at the house party is a suspect, so it falls to the party’s two youngest guests to solve the mystery: Juliet Tilney, the smart and resourceful daughter of Catherine and Henry, eager for adventure beyond Northanger Abbey; and Jonathan Darcy, the Darcys’ eldest son, whose adherence to propriety makes his father seem almost relaxed. In this tantalizing fusion of Austen and Christie, from New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray, the unlikely pair must put aside their own poor first impressions and uncover the guilty party—before an innocent person is sentenced to hang. 

Book cover: The Murder of Mr Wickham by Claudia Gray
My Review of The Murder of Mr Wickham by Claudia Gray

I love both cosy mysteries and Austenesque works, so this book was a must read for me. The Murder of Mr Wickham takes place over 20 years after the close of Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Characters from Austen’s other novels appear at the house party where Mr Wickham meets his grisly fate and the author helpfully sets out at what point in time those books took place, as they have been moved away from their publication dates.

The house party is being hosted by Mr and Mrs Knightley of Donwell Abbey (Emma). They have invited Mr & Mrs Darcy (P&P) plus their eldest son Jonathan, who is aged 20. From Sense & Sensibility we have the recently married Colonel and Mrs Brandon, The Wentworths (Persuasion), who rent Hartfield are there, as are Mr Knightley’s relative Mr Edmund Bertram and his wife Fanny (Mansfield Park). From Northanger Abbey we have the eldest daughter of the Reverend and Mrs Tilney, seventeen year old Miss Julia Tilney. The house party has only just gathered when there is an unexpected and uninvited arrival, Mr Wickham. He is a very unwelcome guest, come to collect money that Mr Knightley’s younger brother has come to owe him following an unsuccessful business transaction. The weather turns, meaning that Mr Wickham is unable to leave due to the road conditions, and less than 36 hours after he arrives at the house he is found struck down.

Austen’s Mr Wickham is not an upstanding character, and this version of Mr Wickham has become worse over time, becoming a con-man with a chip on his shoulder about what he is owed by society. He has encouraged ‘investments’ which only enriched himself but remained just on the correct side of legal, so there is limited chance of redress. Both Captain Wentworth and Mr Knightley’s younger brother have lost significant sums to him. The Darcys obviously have had bad dealings with him in the past but they also have more recent suffering which they blame Wickham for. As time progresses it appears that members of the Brandon and Bertram couples also may have a motive. But who is responsible?

Jonathan Darcy was tending to his horse at the time the body was found, and Juliet Tilney actually makes the discovery of the body. These two, one with an alibi and the other with no knowledge of Wickham, decide to try and investigate, once it becomes clear that the local magistrate, Mr Churchill is likely to blame it on the servants or travellers.

There was a lot to enjoy in this book. It was good to see so many characters from Austen’s works all together. I particularly enjoyed the new characters of Juliet Tilney and Jonathan Darcy. Juliet is as imaginative and compassionate as her mother but far less naïve than seventeen year old Catherine was. My main love, however, is held for Jonathan Darcy. I just adored this character. He lives in a world of rules that he obeys but doesn’t really see the point of. He is certainly written as neuro divergent, probably as somebody with Asperger’s. How close this is to a faithful portrayal of a person with high functioning Autism I don’t know. He has to spend mental energy on masking and fitting in, and is aware of how often his intentions are misunderstood. He is much relieved when he realises that he can be open with Juliet and still be accepted.

"It is peculiar of course," Miss Tilney said, "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."

As for the couples, there is sadness and misunderstanding between most of them, for various reasons, which is quite sad, although we and they work towards a path of greater understanding during the time of their stay at Donwell Abbey. I felt a little bit sad and worried for whoever had murdered Wickham, as I was sorry to think of any of them having to face the consequences of their crime!

Some of the details seemed a little off to me, such as Sir Thomas Bertram being a lord rather than a baronet, and I don’t think that Frank Churchill would have lived in Highbury – he was definitely headed for the family seat in Yorkshire directly after his marriage although it’s possible that he may have headed back south if his uncle died soon after the aunt. I also felt that some of the language used came over as too modern or US English.

I usually like to sleuth along with a cosy mystery (with variable success) but I didn’t get anywhere with this book, as the opportunity of killing Wickham was there for a number of people to have taken so it still could have gone a number of ways at the dénouement.

I have read another mystery/Austenesque story, Death Comes to Pemberley, and so of course this story comes to mind when reading The Murder of Mr Wickham, although Wickham was suspect rather than victim in that. DCtP is much more of a police procedural than a cosy mystery, so we get to see a lot more of the characters in TMoMW.

Although the murder is solved and wrapped up in this story I wonder whether Jonathan Darcy and Juliet Tilney may meet again… is there the possibility of a sequel? I would love to meet these particular characters again! This is an extremely readable book which I found hard to put down. And I love Jonathan Darcy, did I convey that in my review?!!!! I’d rate this a 4 star read.

4 star read

My thanks to Claudia Gray, Vintage Anchor Books, and Austenprose PR for allowing me an ARC of the book to read and to take part in the blog tour.

Author Claudia Gray
Author Bio 

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.  

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Buy Links

The Murder of Mr Wickham is available to buy now in ebook, paperback and audio!

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8 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ceri. I enjoyed this clever story very much and also hope that Jonathan & Juliet's story continues.

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    1. Oh, so do I. I thought they were such great characters, and I was so happy for Jonathan that he had found somebody who seemed to accept his differences without any quibbles, it must have been for about the first time ever.

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  2. I have this on my pile TBR. Sounds very interesting.

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    1. It was interesting, and very readable. I didn't want to put it down.

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  3. Loved reading your thoughts on it. Jonathan and Juliette were fabulous. I had no idea who did it, either. :)

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    1. There were clues, but I wasn't sure which were red herrings!

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  4. love a good "who done it" story

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    1. Me too. I am not always good at working out who it was, but I enjoy trying!

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