Sunday, May 8, 2022

Book Review: The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray

A summer house party turns into a thrilling whodunit when Jane Austen's Mr. Wickham—one of literature’s most notorious villains—meets a sudden and suspicious end in this brilliantly imagined mystery featuring Austen’s leading literary characters.

The happily married Mr. Knightley and Emma are throwing a party at their country estate, 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 this tantalizing fusion of Austen and Christie, from New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray, 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 first read of the summer season comes in The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray. The premise instantly hooked this Janeite reader. The idea of many of Austen’s beloved characters abiding in an Agatha Christie-like mystery seemed delectable, and it was! While all of Austen’s favorites are not present, Gray brings in most of the biggest names: the Darcys, the Brandons, the Knightleys, the Wentworths, plus a few newly created characters as well. Gray’s writing is pitch-perfect for the era, yet the style is very accessible and makes for great fun. Her wit amused me from the opening sentence. Clues regarding the identity of the killer of Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Wickham were sprinkled throughout the narrative, as is done in other cozy mysteries of this type. Gray keeps her readers guessing until the very end. With hindsight being crystal clear, the responsible party now seems obvious, but this knowledge and the enjoyable nature of the story are such that I actually would like to go back and re-read the opening scenes of the novel all over again. Details that I now know to be “clues” will be interesting to see from an omniscient position. 

While this certainly is predominantly a mystery novel, Claudia Gray also takes time to explore the personal lives of Austen’s characters, as most of them have now been married for some time in this vision of Austen’s world. The original works are known for their “Happily Ever After” (HEA) endings, wherein the main characters ultimately fall in love, get married and ride off into the sunset within the blissful bonds of marriage. We readers sigh with delight, close the novels and return to real life, which includes relationships that don’t always achieve their HEAs. Gray’s cast members have taken on rhythms seen in many marriages– misunderstandings that have led to alienation, differences in temperament that sometimes cause conflict, etc. As the mystery swirls around the married couples, readers are also privy to the struggles that sometimes cause bewilderment within even the strongest relationships. As a woman who loves her husband of 27 years, I understand this to be true. Gray’s version of these individuals smacked of a realism that I found to be quite accurate for many, not just in the 19th century but in today’s world as well. 

Because some of the characters are connected with the Church, the topic of faith and related issues come up more often than I’ve seen in other Austenesque novels that aren’t released from Christian publishing houses. The Bertrams of Mansfield Park in particular wrestle with how their faith impacts their choices, and the interpretation of Scripture is offered more than once. As a seminary student I cannot say that I completely agree with the hermeneutical posture of all the characters, but the intent behind their motivations is one of grace and love. Because of theological differences amongst readers, this is the only area in which my conservative readership might have any quibbles, but it is a small sub plot and not the main focus of the story. The content is predominantly family-friendly, with the topic of propriety being so common, it was almost a character in and of itself. I will say this: when interpreting the Word of God, single Bible verses should not be reckoned with in isolation. They need to be read and exegeted within their context. Ultimately I did appreciate the tack that Gray took in this aspect, in that Edmund Bertram could still hold on to his beliefs, while still extending love and grace to those with whom he disagreed. The path to that was not always one I would have taken, but the final position was a loving accord.   

As may seem evident from the title, The Murder of Mr. Wickham is truly a love letter to Jane Austen’s most popular works. While Gray does endeavor to offer some background for each character, those who are already familiar with the stories of works such as Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility and the like will enjoy the novel far more than newcomers will. If you are not inclined to read all six of the main Austen works, quality cinematic productions of the stories will temporarily suffice, if only to familiarize yourself with the characters. George Wickham of Pride and Prejudice is a despicable villain, so it is no surprise that he would lose his life by the hand of another. Claudia Gray’s work was thoroughly delightful, introducing readers to new aspects of Austen’s characters as well as bringing in fresh arrivals such as the Darcys’ son Jonathan and the Tilneys’ daughter Juliet. I loved the portrayal of the neurodivergent Jonathan and the plucky Juliet. I hope that their paths will cross in the future and we are treated to more adventures with them and their families. The Murder of Mr. Wickham was a fun way to kick off the summer reading season, and I give it a hearty recommendation.

About the Author

Claudia Gray is the pseudonym of Amy Vincent. She is the writer of multiple young adult novels, including the Evernight series, the Firebird trilogy, and the Constellation trilogy. In addition, she’s written several Star Wars novels, such as Lost Stars and Bloodline. She makes her home in New Orleans with her husband Paul and assorted small dogs. 


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Laura. I enjoyed this as well. It was such fun to have many of Austen's main characters together under one roof during a murder investigation. I hope that she continues the story of Jonathan & Juliet.

    1. Yes indeed! I love how they relate to each other. Hopefully more adventure and courting is to come!



Related Posts with Thumbnails