Saturday, July 25, 2020
Book Review: Murder at Northanger Abbey by Shannon Winslow
This delightful sequel reprises the mischievous spirit of Austen’s original spoof on the Gothic novel, while giving Catherine a genuine murder mystery to unravel.
At the conclusion of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, the author brings herself somewhat into the story, using the first person and speculating upon the nature of General Tilney’s disapproval of Catherine Moreland and its effect upon her relationship with his son Henry. Did the General’s initial rejection of the lowly Miss Moreland stoke the fires of desire between the two sweethearts? Perhaps we will never know. This question does lead the reader to ponder the characters, and certainly leaves the story open to more episodes.
Shannon Winslow has done just that in her Austenesque novel, Murder at Northanger Abbey. Deftly embodying the voice of Jane Austen, although somewhat softened for modern readers, Winslow has written an entertaining mystery that is perfect reading for a rainy night at home. Although I offered a spotlight post last year for her Prayer & Praise devotional, this is the first fiction title of hers that I have read. I’m not often drawn to mysteries, but Murder at Northanger Abbey was well worth my time. Although I deduced the identity of the victim’s killer early on in the story, I wasn’t sure that my assessment was correct, and even if correct, I had no idea how the narrative would play out. I enjoyed collecting “clues” for my theory, and it wasn’t until the guilty party confessed that I knew for sure that I was on target.
Not only was the main point of conflict a source of amusement, but Winslow’s writing style was frequently an agent of mirth, sometimes directly addressing the audience as Miss Austen also did and successfully bringing a “playfully mischievous flavor” to the story. As a Christian I was also impressed at her ability to reference the intimacy between a husband and wife in a way that was agreeably suggestive, but without being neither gratuitous nor Puritanical. It made for several comedic scenes indeed. Winslow’s understanding of the nature of Catherine Moreland Tilney’s character also provided moments of amusement, as the young wife’s imagination often got the best of her, much as it did in the source material.
Some rare misgivings about the piece lie within a few moments in between significant plot developments. The narrative slows a bit as Catherine spends much (justifiable) time hand-wringing over the fate of her husband, who has become a suspect in the untimely death of another individual in the tale. Similarly, there is a courtroom scene that becomes somewhat laborious and lacks a particular payoff that I was looking forward to. That said, the details covered in the trial are essential to the facts of the case. Without them, the story would have felt diluted. As such, the biggest qualm would merely come from the absence of that specific payoff moment. I decline to offer further details, lest I divulge things and ruin the mystery!
Those minor critiques aside, I found Murder at Northanger Abbey to be a delightful read. It will amuse fans of Austen’s lesser-read Gothic spoof, as well as those who simply enjoy a good mystery tale. Conservative readers can rest assured that the content is not gory nor horrific, and it contains no colorful language. At the same time, Shannon Winslow’s writing is so strong, she did not require those elements to make her work appealing. She brings wit and intelligence, and delivers a wonderful continuation to a classic novel, beloved by many.
Postscript: In a move I have never before seen done in a novel, Shannon Winslow offers an alternative ending to her story in a separate chapter, complete with a new perpetrator and a very different outcome. I found this addition to be unique and brave, and I commend Shannon for offering this to her audience. Well done!
About the Author
Shannon Winslow claims she was minding her own business when an ordinary trip to Costco a dozen years ago changed her life. That was the day a copy of the ’95 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice fairly leapt off the shelf and into her oversized shopping cart. She has been hopelessly hooked on all things Jane Austen ever since, her obsession ultimately inspiring her to begin writing her own stories a la Austen.
Winslow's 2011 debut novel, The Darcys of Pemberley, quickly become a best seller, praised for its authentic Austen style and faithfulness to the original characters. Seven more novels and a Jane Austen Devotional have since followed, with no end to her creative output in sight!
Her two sons now grown, Shannon lives with her husband in the log home they built in the countryside south of Seattle, where she writes and paints in her studio facing Mr. Rainier. Visit Shannon at her website/blog: Shannon Winslow’s “Jane Austen Says…” and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.