The Matters at Mansfield (Or, The Crawford Affair) by Carrie Bebris

The Matters at Mansfield (Or, The Crawford Affair) by Carrie Bebris

I’m not an unbiased reader. I love the Bebris mysteries and was very excited to find this hardback selling on Amazon for the price of a paperback. I liked that it is dedicated to her brother and her acknowledgment of how key family acceptance is of our spending so much time in this alternate universe.  I liked that Bebris was told she has “the nicest fans!” And with that warm-up, I was ready to go on yet another adventure with Elizabeth and Darcy.

I was surprised that the cute parody of the opening to Pride and Prejudice goes too far and messes it up: the “single child” morphs into “some one or other of her offspring.”  That’s about the only flaw I found in the text.

This was so much fun. We begin with Elizabeth, Darcy, Lady Catherine, and Anne all in Colonel Fitzwilliam’s older brother’s house for the ball in which the brother will introduce his intended bride. The end of chapter 1 closes with us knowing Anne is up to something—possibly with a man—and Elizabeth thinking it’s something else and giving Anne her assurance that she will keep Anne’s “secret.” Let the mystery begin!

You’d never pick the guy Anne does to match up with her if you were handed the novels, but the title of the text suggests which men are possible reasons for Anne to sneak out in the middle of the night. I will try not to divulge any other details that will do anything but whet your appetite to read it.

Now we need some suspicious characters: enter a once heroic, now rapidly declining Lord Sennex, whose son Neville, Darcy recalls beating his own dogs when a hunt went poorly—and Neville doesn’t dance. Two strikes against him.

Anne, on the other hand, does dance, largely because Fitzwilliam is inclined to ask her, and because Darcy and Elizabeth are inclined to conspire with him to distract Lady Catherine, who has other plans for her daughter. We catch the gist of that right away as Darcy suffers at cards with his aunt, but he somehow fails to notice her evil scheme to match up Anne to a man who ignores his father—a father who seems so confused he calls Lady Catherine “Lady Anne” by mistake and doesn’t even recognize Darcy at first.

It’s tough to go much more into detail without ruining one or more of this story’s delightful and gripping twists and turns. I knew, when reading, that Bebris was dropping clues—and things that seemed like clues but weren’t—everywhere, but, in true Bebris style, it was difficult to know exactly what to do with those clues until just before (or as) Elizabeth and Darcy figured it out. What I can offer you is some teasers: several characters understand more than they appear to, Scotland offers both happiness and misery, a character seems to die twice, that character dies for good once I actually started to like the character, there appears to be bigamy, the suspects are many and well-motivated to commit the crime—and still the real mastermind is probably not going to make it to your list of suspects until it’s too late to warn anyone—and even once you know who it is, your explanation for the motive will differ from the motive the character reveals.

Bebris includes many lines from Austen (how great a job would it be to select which line begins each chapter? I wonder what the procedure is for that—does she pick them? Does she write the chapter and then find the line, or vice versa?) and even a few well-placed ones from Shakespeare. In one (a rephrasing of Hamlet’s sarcastic comment that his mother’s wedding followed hard upon the heels on his father’s funeral in order to serve the same food at both feasts), you may even understand something critical to solving the mystery. Or not. Regardless, if you enjoy a fast-paced, hard to put down mystery that involves characters from multiple Austen works and seeks to end with our favorite characters happy, Matters at Mansfield should be next on your list.

Published in: on July 29, 2009 at 8:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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