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Advanced Review: The Matters at Mansfield (Or, the Crawford Affair)

Saturday while I was getting dressed, my mother called up to me that the mail had arrived. She said, “There’s something for the Bluestocking Guide.” Immediately my mind flashed to the publish with whom I had had a conversation a couple days before. I thought, “that was quick.” Wonder of wonders the package was not from Michigan as I had thought. It was from New York. As I tore the package open, I saw the words Advance Uncorrected Proof. Then I saw the title The Matters at Mansfield. I was stunned. A few months ago, I had contacted Ms. Bebris and asked for an advance review copy of her book. I thought I would get it close to the release date, which is in September. Needless to say, I was absolutely giddy!!!!

The story opens with Darcy and Elizabeth visiting the home of Darcy’s cousin Roger Fitzwilliam, the Earl of Southwell for his prenuptial celebration.  Readers will remember that Colonel James Fitzwilliam was the younger son of the late Earl.  It is a family affair complete with the presence of Lady Catherine and her daughter Anne.  At the ball, Elizabeth and Darcy, seeing Anne’s wistfulness at the dancing, distract Lady Catherine long enough for Anne to be able to have a dance with Colonel Fitzwilliam.  During the intricacies of the dance, Anne meets Henry Crawford.  Later on that night, she and Henry travel to Gretna Green and elope.  This, of course throws, quite a monkey wrench into Lady Catherine’s plans to marry Anne to the Honorable Neville Sennex, the heir of the viscount, Lord Sennex.  Darcy and Fitzwilliam give chase but arrive too late.  The marriage has been finalized in every sense of the word.  However, it seems Henry Crawford is a changed man and has acted in this reckless manner solely to protect Anne.  It further appears that Anne and Mr. Crawford met indirectly as a result of Darcy and Elizabeth’s last adventure a year before.  As the couple returns to face Lady Catherine’s wrath, Anne is injured in the small village of Mansfield.  As one can imagine, the whole town turns out to see the infamous Mr. Crawford and his most unfortunate wife, including the Mansfield favorites: Mrs. Norris, Maria Rushworth, and Edmund.  Just when things seem to die down, who should appear but a Meg Garrick who also claims to have been seduced.  It appears Mr. Crawford is a rakehell of the worst sort; his seduction of Maria Rushworth is one of many bombshells dropped.  Mr. Crawford disappears that night to be found dead several days later in a grove on Mansfield Park of either suicide or murder most foul.  As Darcy and Elizabeth try to determine how Mr. Crawford died, they encounter more twist and turns and surprises than the legendary labyrinth.  The list of suspects runs from the father of a seduced daughter to close family members.  It appears not everyone is who and what they seem- including the dead. 
This book is the best of the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mysteries.  Ms. Bebris has truly grown into her craft.  Of the novels she has written this is the first that can be truly described as a detective novel.  Her thorough research into arms, dancing, English estate laws, and horses make the book entertaining as well as realistic.  Not only does she do a superb job with the science behind the crime, she does an excellent job developing her cast of characters, particularly Anne de Bourgh of whom we know next to nothing.  This book is more in the style of the Jane Austen Mysteries in that the crime is solved by understanding the character and motivations of the suspects and their families.  This book is an engaging read.  Pride and Prejudice fans will greatly enjoy seeing their favorite husband and wife duo in action again.  

This book is available for sale September 2, 2008!!


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