Claudia Gray’s The Murder of Mr. Wickham is a cozy locked-room mystery set in a world populated by Jane Austen’s beloved characters.
Emma and George Knightley have decided to host a monthlong house party at their estate, Donwell Abbey, and have invited some of their closest friends: the Darcys (including their son, Jonathan), the Brandons, the Wentworths, the Bertrams and Juliet Tilney, the daughter of Northanger Abbey’s Catherine and Henry. During the first days of the party, the very-much-not-invited George Wickham makes an appearance to collect a debt from Mr. Knightley, and we quickly learn that every person in attendance has a grievance with Wickham. Austen fans will already know from Pride and Prejudice that the Darcys’ interactions with Wickham were the opposite of pleasant, and he is still up to his nefarious ways in Gray’s novel: An investment scheme has robbed some couples of their wealth, he is blackmailing Fanny Bertram, and Colonel Brandon has a particularly heartbreaking past with the scoundrel.
When Wickham is found dead one stormy night, it is apparent that someone staying or working at Donwell must have committed the crime, as the muddy roads were too impassable for a stranger to arrive. After witnessing the local magistrate’s bumbling efforts, Juliet and Jonathan form an unlikely partnership, as both are determined to solve the crime.
The Murder of Mr. Wickham is not a novel for Austen purists. The reader must accept the conceit that the characters are all acquainted (in a foreward, the author explains how she tweaked the timeline) and, furthermore, that one of the beloved characters may be a murderer. On the way to reaching the mystery’s satisfying solution, readers also get to see that all the couples still have struggles within their marriages. Those who believe Austen’s novels ended with a firm happily ever after may be dismayed by this development, while others will be fascinated by how Gray complicates the relationships between the various characters.
Readers looking for a charming mystery will adore this book. Gray captures Austen’s tone perfectly, allowing fans to step back into the Regency author’s beloved world. And despite the presence of iconic characters such as Emma Knightley and Lizzie Darcy, the newly invented characters of Jonathan and Juliet are dynamic in their own right. They quickly become adept at working together, and there is a hint that romance is on the horizon.
The Murder of Mr. Wickham will allow many Austen fans an opportunity to revisit the characters they treasure, and solve a mystery to boot.