Austenesque · stuff I read

The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray

Summary from Goodreads: From New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray—a summer house party turns into a thrilling whodunit when Mr. Wickham, one of literature’s most notorious villains, meets a sudden and suspicious end in this brilliantly imagined mystery featuring Jane Austen’s leading literary characters.

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.

The Knightleys are having a house party at Donwell Abbey. They’ve invited some relatives and old friends: the Darcys, the Brandons, the Bertrams, and the Tilneys (who were unable to come but did send their eldest daughter Juliet for her first foray into adult society). Emma has unexpectedly added the Wentworths to the party – they had been renting the Highbury property which is now undergoing emergency repairs. Everyone has their own little secrets and worries. The Darcys are just coming out of morning for their niece and that has put a strain on their marriage. The Wentworths have had to “retrench” and it weighs heavily on Frederick. Fanny Bertram is keeping a secret from her husband. The Brandons are newly married and neither is sure of the other’s feelings, yet. The party starts out well but a sudden storm brings a most unwelcome guest.

Mr. Wickham.

And despite the intervening years (it’s been about 20 years since the end of Pride and Prejudice), he has not improved. In fact, he’s grown far more smarmy and despicable. After setting the entire house party on edge, George Wickham retires to what can only be a servant’s room (note: I love Emma and her housekeeper) only to be later discovered in the Armory lying in a pool of blood by a very unfortunate Juliet Tilney. And he is very, very dead.

Who could have done it? The storm was so fierce that it is highly unlikely that an intruder surprised him. Making the murderer one of the house party. And every, single person there had reason for wanting Mr. Wickham’s loathsome person gone. When local magistrate Frank Churchill comes to investigate, his first inclination is to look for a lower-class person as culprit (because the upper-class gentry would never do something as low-class as a murder…). Juliet Tilney and Jonathan Darcy are both quite certain he is wrong and begin their own discreet (or, about as discreet as two teenagers can be in the Regency) investigation to make certain an innocent person is not about to be hanged for Mr. Wickham’s death. In the process, more than one person is going to have to come clean before the true murderer is revealed.

In short, The Murder of Mr. Wickham is quite a clever way to tell a locked room-esque mystery in an Austen sequel that brings together almost all the major couples from her six novels. Gray does shift some timing of the original stories to get the Austen couples at different ages and points in their marriages. There’s one shift that really doesn’t work for me, personally, but it does work within the story (Marianne and Colonel Brandon).

And yes, the book fulfills the promise of the premise. Wickham does indeed get whacked early in the book (unlike Death Comes to Pemberley, where Lydia makes everyone think Wickham is dead for about five pages but then it turns out to be Denny instead…). Although, out of the entire range of Fuckbois of Austen, Wickham is only number two on that list. In my opinion, Willoughby is probably most deserving of getting clonked on the head. (Maybe Gray can work on that for a second book?)

Gray does give some notes and content warnings about the historical use of g*psy in the book, as Austen used it at the time she was writing, but there was a surprise moment of homophobia. It involved a side character who doesn’t appear on page in the book. Although the homophobia does come from a character who would historically initially hold that view (it is Church dogma-accurate for the time period) and then subsequently work to dismantle that viewpoint, it would have been nice to have in the note as well. I will also note that Jonathan Darcy is coded as neurodivergent. I know there is a lot of discussion of whether Mr. Darcy can be interpreted as autistic or neurodivergent but Gray does make it much more explicit in Jonathan, since we are given his internal monologue. I think the representation is good, although I am not neurodivergent myself, so don’t take mine as a definitive judgment. Jonathan and Juliet do make a very nice pairing as friends, amateur sleuths, and maybe a budding courtship.

The Murder of Mr. Wickham is out on Tuesday May 3!

And if you have time, check out the review on Austenprose and follow the #murderwickham hastag for the blog tour!

Dear FTC: I was sent a finished copy of this book as part of the blog tour with Austenprose, but I kind of couldn’t wait and read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss in just about one gulp.

2 thoughts on “The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Melissa. I enjoyed this as well. I think bumping off Willoughby is an excellent idea, and then she can add Mary Crawford and Fanny Dashwood to the list! It’s always men who are Austen’s villains.

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