I started reading this one not only excited for another Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery, but also a little sad since it’s the sixth, and every complete work has now been revisited. Bebris again thanks her father (my heart ached to think how much I owe and miss my dad). She also thanks artist Teresa Fasolino, who does all the covers for this series, and I did find myself studying this one since I know how much they reveal. There are even pictures in this one!
As is always the case with this series, I was struck by the command both of language and of character. Other than an occasional split infinitive (“that seemed to primarily serve those loading” 28), the language is controlled and lovely (much as are our protagonist sleuths, Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy). Witness this poetic opening: “On the southern coast of England, near the town of Lyme Regis, an ancient seawall rises from the water” (15).
Bebris is also a master of character. Though I was at first dismayed at how quick Darcy is to discourage Georgiana from a particular man, I soon understood that calling every new character’s intentions into doubt is key to the development of the mystery. Bebris introduces us to two new sets of people of people right away: Miss Ashford and her older brother (in whom Georgiana seems maybe interested) and the couple Elizabeth overhears arguing about his business, her money, and some betrayal of “affairs” (20). We want to like Sir Laurence, but we also wonder why Darcy says so little about him from White’s and why he is so surprised to have company on the Cobb, and why is he in an area “hidden from view” (28). The murder of the mysterious, seemingly cold woman is surprising—but somehow not. We knew something mysterious must be happening down these steps, but how did Sir Laurence not know? Or did he? We suspect quite soon that this pregnant woman who fell is the one Elizabeth heard arguing–but then it turns out the rather icky man she was with, and whose first reaction to hearing the news from Darcy is to blame her (“whatever was she thinking”), is William Elliot! (42) I won’t spoil for you the name of the woman with whom he was arguing, though, in retrospect, I should have guessed.
Sir Walter is as ridiculous as ever. There is a hilarious shift in behavior when Darcy and Elizabeth throw around the fancy titles of the people with whom they associate. Walter goes from telling his servant to say he’s not home to apologizing for the relatively lowly “surroundings” (55). Upon hearing the news, Sir Walter’s concerns are first ordering proper mourning clothes, and later, the location of the baby. Elizabeth is too kind; she assumes “the shock of bereavement” is what allows Sir Walter “to discuss his son-in-law’s complexion and living arrangements immediately after receiving news of his wife’s death” (58). Elizabeth Eliot hasn’t yet told Anne they’re in town because Mrs. Smith is staying with the Wentworths.
I eagerly anticipated the meetings of Lizzy and Anne and of Darcy and Wentworth. One of the workers comments on Louisa’s fall (not by name). One might think, if women keep falling, something should be altered! He also says she recovered, so that must mean Anne isn’t visiting anymore. How will Elizabeth and Anne meet? In a tough situation, Darcy accepts help from the guy who was checking out Georgiana the day before—and this guy says he knows where they can get help nearby. Still, I cried out a little when the little Harville opened the door! Mrs. Harville knows exactly whom to summon; she says, “a friend of ours had an accident on the Cobb last autumn and injured her head. Mr. Sawyer treated her, and she is mended now,” of Louisa Musgrove (39). I was relieved to learn Anne was just there recently!
Bebris increases our suspense by first introducing the Darcys to this low-life Eliot rather than to the Wentworths! It is interesting, nonetheless. Whose baby is it? Probably not his, since he doesn’t stay for its birth. Maybe Sir Walter’s? Maybe that’s why William asked Darcy right away if it survived? Someone pushed her; that much is clear from her response to Elizabeth during her labor (50). As usual, there is some build-up: the heroes meet significantly before the heroines finally do.
Elizabeth is as charming as ever—and smart. Even after a traumatic day, she puts pieces together: why does her normally calm daughter push her new little friend? What did Lily-Anne mean when she got her mom’s attention? What is the significance of the victim’s last words? Elizabeth and Georgiana help a stranger—who turns out to be Anne’s Mrs. Smith! Georgiana factors prominently here, both because she is Elizabeth’s companion and because so many young men seem to crave her attention. The narrator explains that Georgiana’s draw to Wickham resulted, to some degree, from her admiration of her cousin Gerard (Colonel Fitzwilliam’s brother), and so, “it was little wonder that shortly afterward she had fallen prey to . . . [George,] who looked dashing in uniform” (85). (But was he in the militia yet, or did that happen after he got caught? 85) Georgiana’s watching of the sky the night before Sir Laurence is supposed to take her out on a boat reminded me of when Catherine Morland hopes for fair weather so the Tilneys and she can take a walk (225).
There is another story within the story, and we end up reading Gerard’s sea-voyage journals and learning about more than sea-life, rum, and sugar. There are some disturbing suggestions about two men on board—one we knew was there, and one we did not. Bebris cleverly sets it up that Elizabeth is suspicious of one, and Darcy of the other, so we’re now watching both closely. Extramarital affairs lead not only to disturbed relationships but also to red hair where there shouldn’t be any genetic reason for it. The sheer number of affairs here is a little overwhelming, and just when it looks like only one of the six (of three couples) was at all honorable, she does something to cast doubt on that as well. In fact, until Darcy comments that “it seems Mrs. Smith says a great many things whenever you are together,” and Elizabeth responds, “I myself was a little taken aback by how much she divulged to someone with whom she is only recently acquainted,” I had made no connection between her talkativeness and Wickham’s—and how quickly Elizabeth trusted each (199). Bebris has us doubting someone we had never before doubted—quite an accomplishment, I thought.
I liked pretty much everything about this story—even the implied lessons in parenting. Lily-Anne actually helps her parents solve the mystery and also facilitates our understanding of characters, such as when she burrows into her father’s neck when Sir Laurence arrives (218). I appreciated that Darcy takes her aside to admonish her later when she tries to run into a crowd, rather than disciplining her in public (222). The snippets of text from various novels or letters really help frame the chapters and are as central as the cliffhanger so often concluding each.
Like Georgiana, I just want “a man of integrity and principle, whom I can respect and admire, who respects and appreciates me in turn, and who makes me feel safe, happy, and loved” (294). She gets hers, so . . . .