This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend. Read the full disclosure here.
Book: “The Murder of Mr. Wickham” by Claudia Gray
Publishing Info: Vintage, May 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!
Book Description: The happily married Mr. Knightley and Emma are throwing a house party, 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 a tantalizing fusion of Austen and Christie, the unlikely pair must put aside their own poor first impressions and uncover the guilty party—before an innocent person is sentenced to hang.
Review: There is a truth universally acknowledged: the more ardent a fan of Jane Austen a reader is, the more critical that fan will be of any and every Jane Austen adaptation/sequel. I feel fairly confident making a generalization like that, and I would easily include myself in it. There have been times when my snobbery has reached levels not seen in any other favorite genre or beloved series of books. But I’m glad that I didn’t let this lesser self dictate whether or not I picked up this book, cuz, man, other than “Death Comes to Pemberley,” this is probably my favorite Jane Austen continuation yet!
In Emma’s view, a house party is always just the thing to cheer matters up! So she and her husband, Mr. Knightley, gather a large group of friends, acquaintances, and family members to share in a visit at their home. This cheerful event is made much less so, however, when the disreputable Mr. Wickham shows up one dark and stormy night. And what’s worse than an unwelcome guest? One that is rude enough to get themselves murdered on the premises, thus leaving all the remaining guests left as suspects. With so many members of the group having motives for thinking the world would be better off without Mr. Wickham, the Darcy’s oldest son, Jonathan, and the young Juliet Tilney decide to tackle the mystery themselves. But as they get closer and closer to discovering the murderer, the more horrifying the truth becomes, because it must have been one of their dear friends!
It’s immediately obvious that the author is herself a huge fan of Jane Austen. This book is so clearly a love letter to all of these characters and to all of the fans that it’s impossible to miss. This also makes the reading experience entirely dependent on one’s familiarity with these characters and stories. There are so many small nods and inside jokes that will only be appreciated by ardent fans, that the reading experience will likely be vastly different for those familiar with these stories and those who have been less-exposed. And because the story includes characters from all of the books, the reader pretty much has to have all six novels well under the belt to appreciate the work the author has put into creating in this story.
As fun as all of these Easter egg clues were to spot, what really made this book stand out was how well the author understood the characters she was working with, in all of their strengths and weaknesses. Most especially, she envisioned how these personalities would play off one another, both between each other and within their own marriages (since, due to the nature of Austen’s books, we see very little of what these characters’ lives are like in the marital state). Gray doesn’t shy away from pointing out some of the flaws in these characters that could drive wedges into their marriages. However, everything is handled with such care that you never feel like any of these choices or actions are out of character with the originals. Instead, we see how many of them grow even further once some of these characteristics are exposed to the harsh light of day.
From a purely preferential state, I was glad to see that Emma and Knightley were by far the most stable of the couples. Not only do they know each other much better than anyone else (Emma having grown up with Knightley as a good friend from the very beginning), but the original book does a good job dealing with each of their flaws to begin with. Fans of “Mansfield Park,” however, may be dismayed to see that Fanny and Edmund, on the other hand, probably have the most work to do. Again, this never feels like an overt critique of the original story, but instead seems perfectly in line with these two characters and the way their romance played out (honestly, one of the more weird ones when you think about it). It’s satisfying to see Fanny come more into her own and Edmund be forced to reckon with some of the ways that he didn’t do his best with regards to Fanny and their relationship.
All of this written and I haven’t even touched on the mystery! I honestly can’t say enough good thing about this as well. It’s truly impressive how well Gray managed to work Wickham into all of these characters’ lives in ways that felt completely natural and inline with their stories. Not once did his relationship with these characters feel forced or shoe-horned in to fit the narrative. Instead, it felt completely organic and believable. Thus making the entire thing so stressful! It starts to become truly horrifying wondering how this mystery is going to be resolved without vilifying one of our beloved main characters!
I also really enjoyed the original characters of Jonathan and Juliet. It’s tough work to create new characters and stand them up against classics like Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse, but Gray manages it! For one thing, the book features so many viewpoints that Jonathan and Juliet are by no means the sole focus. We get plenty of time with our other favorites, but I also began to appreciate both Jonathan and Juliet in their own right. I was also pleased to see that while there are hints of a potential romance between these two, the story didn’t commit to anything in this arena. There simply wasn’t enough time in this book to not do a disserve to the mystery by trying to force in a fully-fledged romance as well.
All of this to say, I highly recommend this book to any Jane Austen fan out there! The more familiar you are with the originals, the more you’re likely to enjoy this!
Rating 9: Simply excellent and sure to please even the most picky Jane Austen fan!
“The Murder of Mr. Wickham” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Jane Austen Sequels and Pastiches.