Crossing Boundaries

Crossing Boundaries

A couple of weeks ago, I released the second novel in my Austenesque mystery series, Miss Mary Investigates. In this new book, Death in Highbury: An Emma Mystery, Mary Bennet travels to Highbury, Surrey, where she helps to solve a perplexing series of unexplained deaths.

As you probably gather from the title, this is the same Highbury where Emma Woodhouse sits regnant over her local society. And, as you probably imagine, most of our favourite characters from Jane Austen’s Emma are there as well.

I’m far from the first person to have characters cross into different stories, and I certainly won’t be the last. Because really, there is a certain joy in imagining just how Austen’s various creations, both charming and vile, would get along.

Think, for example, about who Mr. Bingley would hang around with at the clubs in Town. Colonel Brandon? No, not at all. They would greet each other politely, think the other was a fine chap, and then head in separate directions. But Bingley might enjoy a drink and a game of billiards with Willoughby.

What about John Thorpe from Northanger Abbey? He’s a manipulative womanizer, out to puff himself up with the approbation of his betters. I can see him and Wickham having a few things in common. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be around when they finally run out of beer.

One of the things I am really loving about the Miss Mary Investigates books is discovering how Mary rubs along with the other characters she encounters. Of the planned six books in this series, I have written four, so Mary has met quite a few of them.

In book 4, for example (no title or projected release date yet), Mary encounters Elinor Dashwood at a bookshop. How do you envision their meeting? This is what I had in mind.

There was Mrs. Roche’s book. She picked up a copy and turned to the first page. Was it horrible like Clermont? Or worse, like The Mysteries of Udolfo? She had never dared to read something as scandalous as Udolfo, but she had heard so much about it… Perhaps she would do better with Mrs. Brunton’s Discipline. She replaced the copy of The Monastery of St. Columb and reached for Discipline instead. But rather than her hand alighting upon the cool hard cover of a book, she touched soft flesh instead. She pulled her hand back as if burned, only to see another young woman do exactly the same thing.

“Please forgive me,” Mary blurted out, as the other woman exclaimed, “Oh, I am so sorry!”

Then both of them smiled and both began to laugh, which brought the young clerk around to ask them to please be a little quieter.

“Have you read Mrs. Brunton’s book?” Mary asked the other lady.

“No, although I do wish to. But I must hide it from my sister. She thinks me far too serious to read novels! I saw you looking at The Monastery. Do you like the Gothick stories?”

Mary felt herself blush and hoped the red did not go badly with her mustard yellow pelisse. “Oh no! That is, I dare not. I am far too sober-minded for that! Although I must confess I would like to see what it is about…”

The other lady began to laugh again and then quickly quietened down to a delicate titter. “We are much alike then. Which shall you buy?”

Mary pinched her lips together and frowned. “I cannot say! I would like to read both, but dare not spend that much money.”

“And I likewise.”

“I have a grand idea!” Mary beamed. She felt a great connection with this unknown lady, who seemed so similar to her and who had such excellent taste in books. “Perhaps I can buy the one and you the other, and when we have read them through, we might meet and lend each other our books so we can read both.”

“How very clever! Here, may I introduce myself? It is not quite the thing, and yet there is no one else to do the honours. My name is Elinor Dashwood and I am staying in town with my cousin for some months.”

As I mentioned above, Death in Highbury features the cast from Emma. I had to think hard about how Emma would take to Mary Bennet. Would she be pleased to have another protegee to usher around and guide? Mary is, after all, only a year or two younger than Emma, and much more sophisticated and educated than Harriet Smith. Or would Emma feel a bit put out by Mary’s presence?

Likewise, what about Mary and Jane Fairfax? How would they get along? And (gasp!) what about Frank Churchill? Mary might be the plainest of the Bennet sisters, but all five were accounted to be very pretty girls, after all. The plainest of a lovely lot could still be quite beautiful indeed.

And matters get even more interesting when Alexander Lyons, the detective who helped Mary in Death of a Clergyman, shows up in town. Suddenly Emma has another handsome face to admire… and Mary is not too pleased about this!

What a tangled web, and we haven’t even got to the mystery yet.

Here is an excerpt from Death in Highbury. Mary is unexpectedly stuck in Highbury and is invited to stay with Emma at Hartfield. On her first night in town, she comes down to meet the Woodhouses’ guests.

 

“Yes, indeed, Miss Bennet!” Emma seemed quite keen to escape Miss Bates’ monologue, “Please let me introduce you to our other guests.” She took her leave of the foursome and hustled Mary across to the pianoforte where a very elegant young lady sat at the keyboard, not playing but talking to a smart young man who stood sorting through a pile of music.

“Here, perhaps this one, Miss Fairfax,” he spoke rather loudly as Mary and Emma approached, and handed the lady a selection he had pulled from the stack.

The lady herself blushed and took it to set upon the stand before turning her gaze to Mary. Emma made the introductions once more. Jane Fairfax was quite lovely in a very different way to Emma Woodhouse. Her beauty was of the classic and refined variety, where Emma’s was broad and extravagant; and where Emma’s eyes sparkled with ideas and emotions only just suppressed, Miss Fairfax’s betrayed nothing.

“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Bennet.” Jane Fairfax’s manners were as quiet and elegant as her appearance. “Are you to be in the neighbourhood for long?”

Mary explained the situation as best she could in a few short sentences. “Only until it is safe to return to London, or until my sister and her husband decide to continue with their plans to visit the area.”

“I will enjoy our acquaintance, then, as short as it might be. Please feel free to call whilst you are in Highbury.” There was a coolness to her manner, but it bespoke a reserved nature rather than a disinclination towards the connection, and Mary replied that she would be pleased to accept. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a momentary wave of irritation pass across Emma’s face, and she decided she had yet another mystery to solve, namely the cause of Emma’s dislike of Miss Fairfax.

Could the answer to that be the young gentleman who was standing between the ladies? He had been introduced as Frank Churchill, Mr. Weston’s son. He beamed broadly at Emma and flirted most shamefully with her, but his eyes, Mary noticed, flitted towards Miss Fairfax just as Mr. Knightley’s had flitted constantly towards Emma. Oh my, this was quite a mare’s nest she had landed in! How fortunate that all the parties seemed amicable, if not the closest of friends, lest it turn into a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.

“I say, Miss Bennet,” Mr. Churchill beamed at her, “I do hope you have a fine frock with you, or Miss Woodhouse may give you use of one of hers, for we are to have a ball the day after tomorrow, at the Crown!” He named the inn where Mary had sat as she read her brother Darcy’s letter. “Its planning has quite consumed us for some time, and I would not enjoy it at all were you not to attend! May I request a set of dances? My first is promised already, but I beg you to accept me for the second set.”

Not one to put herself forward and happy enough to watch others at the activity, Mary seldom took to the dance floor, but such was Mr. Churchill’s charm and easy appeal that she found she could not refuse him. He smiled as if she were the most interesting creature he had met in a long while and oozed flattery from every pore, albeit without encouraging anything other than an acceptance to a reel or polonaise.

Perhaps, for her short stay in Highbury, Mary could adopt a new persona, that of a social creature who enjoyed all the attentions of society. What good was there in being in an unexpected situation, after all, if one could not learn something from it. “Thank you, Mr. Churchill,” she tried her own smile. “I would be honoured. I shall see if my trunks contain something suitable to wear.”

Emma began to talk about what gowns she might own that Mary could borrow if need be, and once more, Mary felt herself secondary in the conversation to Emma’s desire to be publicly useful.

As Emma accounted for each of her suitable frocks, Mary’s eyes dropped to the sheet of music that Mr. Churchill had handed to Miss Fairfax. It was a short piece by Mr. Beethoven for voice and pianoforte, beyond her abilities but lovely. “That is a beautiful song,” she offered with animation. “I have begun to learn it myself, although I cannot play and sing at the same time. Indeed, I believe I should never sing in public at all, for all that I enjoy the activity.”

“You play, Miss Bennet? How delightful!” There was a spark of genuine interest in Miss Fairfax’s guarded eyes. “When you come to visit—and we must set an engagement—perhaps you will oblige me by joining me in a set of duets I have only now acquired. There is no one else to play them with me, and I would dearly love to hear them in their entirety. Do say you will come! I have a sweet-toned instrument,” her eyes dropped to her hands and a blush stole over her cheeks, “which is wanting for performers.”

This was a welcome invitation. Miss Woodhouse was, to be honest, intimidating with her extravagant friendliness and her officious manner, no matter how kindly meant. Being so much more reserved herself, Mary felt herself more drawn to this quiet and subdued young woman with her interest in music and her promise of a beautiful instrument to play.

“Thank you, I would like that.” Mary curtseyed and saw Emma force a smile.

“Tomorrow morning, then? I shall inform my aunt and grandmother. We will be most delighted to welcome you.”

“Yes,” Emma murmured. “Delighted.”

Give-away Time

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt. To celebrate the release of Death in Highbury, I am giving away two copies of the eBook worldwide. To enter, please drop a comment below. Are you a mystery fan? What do you think of Mary Bennet? What characters from different novels do you think would get on particularly well, or particularly poorly?

I will take comments until February 19, but winners won’t be announced until the 28th of February because of the big Austen Authors Winter Quarterly Give-away. Good luck!

And please sign up for my newsletter. I don’t send out newsletters often and I will never, ever, share your information. Promise! But there might be occasional short stories or notice about new releases and other interesting goings-on in the world of Austenesque fiction.

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Linny B
Linny B
February 18, 2021 9:33 AM

Looking forward to reading about Mary Bennet sleuthing. Enjoyable excerpt!

Lynn Char
Lynn Char
February 16, 2021 4:50 PM

I always love editors stories in which Mary gets to shine. I look forward to reading this!

spiritualoutfittersblog
February 16, 2021 9:49 AM

I enjoy books with Mary Bennett as a main character. Have read several. I also have enjoyed Austen themed mysteries. I work at a used bookstore where I try to encourage all to read Jane Austen, or JAFF, or books involving characters from Austen etc.

Vanessa Roesler at Spiritual Outfitters.

I know Regina Jeffries as a fellow JASNA member and have read many of her books. We have done book events for her at the bookstore.

mellykzn
February 15, 2021 7:17 AM

What fun! Love the excerpt! I think I would like to imagine Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Elton together. And perhaps throw in Fanny Dash wood for good measure!

buturot
February 13, 2021 4:14 PM

Enjoyed the excerpt, blending of characters/stories.

lmalden
February 12, 2021 9:37 PM

I think Mary Bennet is the most complex character of all the sisters.

darcybennett
February 12, 2021 4:57 PM

I love crossovers and the character of Mary so sounds like a series I would enjoy. Thanks for the giveaway!

Pam Hunter
Pam Hunter
February 12, 2021 4:13 PM

Great excerpt! I like seeing Mary come out of her (moralizing) shell and socialize with others. I always felt sorry for her as she was the middle, somewhat forgotten sister. Thanks,for the chance to win a copy of the book!

Linda A.
Linda A.
February 12, 2021 2:56 PM

Wonderful excerpt! I like how she is aware of her surroundings and the hidden nuances of the people around her. Thank you for sharing and for the chance to win a copy.

nikki chicotel
February 12, 2021 2:21 PM

I would love to see more with Mary and Elinor Dashwood. Perhaps she can assist in solving the mystery?

Robin G.
Robin G.
February 12, 2021 1:38 PM

It’s interesting to see Mary pick up on all the undercurrents that are not seen by the residents of Highbury. Thank you for the excerpt!

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
February 12, 2021 11:33 AM

What a fun post. I like this crossing over with Austen’s characters. Let’s see what we can do with this.

Bingley and Willoughby… they might do OK for a bit until Darcy warned Bingley away from the association alleging Willoughby to be a fortune hunter [snicker]. Sound familiar? Bingley would have fun with Sir John Middleton. They both love a good party and would get on well.

Thorpe, Wickham, and maybe Willoughby would be a nightmare waiting to happen. Tell all the girls to RUN!! All three are self-centered [varying degrees of severity], money centric and willing to do what is necessary to get what they want. Scruples? There isn’t enough between the three to fill a thimble. Oh, I’m rather cynical today.

Emma with Mary: both landed gentry, daughters of gentlemen, with the exception that Emma has money and Mary does not. Emma was able to wrangle [yes, wrangle… OK, you said usher around and guide] Miss Smith because Harriet was in awe of Emma and willing to be taken under her wing [for better or worse]. Mary would not be so naïve or taken in by the wealth. Emma would be put out by Mary’s independence and strength even as she admired her.

Mary and Jane Fairfax: Mary would see Miss Fairfax as similar to her elder sister Jane… quiet, shy, holding her feelings like her cards close to her chest. Mary would see all those nuances from Frank toward Jane and would bristle at the affront. She would know something was up [as you demonstrated in the excerpt]. She would also enjoy Jane’s musical proficiency.

I have read the first two books [prequel and book 1] and look forward reading this next book. Blessings on the success of this series. Stay safe and healthy.

Vanessa Mcbride
Vanessa Mcbride
February 12, 2021 10:01 AM

Thank you for writing about Mary. I have always felt there was more to her story to tell. I love a good mystery. I can’t wait to see how this story turns out.

sheilalmajczan
February 12, 2021 10:00 AM

I also like mysteries. Another one added to the TBR pile. But thanks for a chance to win a copy also. I am not going to speculate on how various characters from different novels might get along. I’ll leave that to the authors. Thanks for sharing her. Stay safe, everyone.

Ginna
Ginna
February 12, 2021 9:47 AM

I’ve been wondering if Mary is her normal moralizing self, in these books? That would definitely color how Emma (and anyone else) feel about her.

caroleincanada
caroleincanada
February 12, 2021 9:24 AM

I do love a period murder/mystery and tend to flit between them and JAFF! I am currently reading your ‘Death of a Clergyman’. Being inside the head of Mary is quite fun! I do enjoy crossovers and seeing them interact with each other. Loved the excerpt with Elinor and the one with Emma, Jane and Mr. Churchill. Congratulations! Glad to see you have 6 books planned in this series!

amandasmother8
amandasmother8
February 12, 2021 9:03 AM

wonderful excerpt! thanks for the chance to win! I love mysteries and Mary Bennet

maomac
February 12, 2021 8:59 AM

Thank you for this new entry to the series and the giveaway. I do love a good historical mystery, and when it combines with Jane Austen’s characters – even more enjoyable. I do like to see Mary take center stage with her studious observant ways rather than the prim condemning ways.

Best of luck with the launch.

BeckyC
BeckyC
February 12, 2021 8:43 AM

Wonderful excerpt! Congratulations!

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
February 12, 2021 6:38 AM

Sounds like a wonderful mystery!

Cimora
Cimora
February 12, 2021 5:33 AM

Nicely done!

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