I am delighted to share that my newest mystery, Death of a Dandy: A Mansfield Park Mystery, is ready to greet the world. Hasn’t my cover artist done a lovely job again?
Once again, my sleuths are Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, and Alexander Lyons, who wandered into my head one day and refused to move out. This time they find themselves in Northamptonshire, where they are asked to look into the disappearance of Tom Bertram of Mansfield Park. When a body is found after an ill-fated fox hunt, the mystery only deepens.
I started this book thinking that Mary and Fanny Price would gravitate towards each other. Both are quiet and serious, and both find strength in their sense of morality. I imaged them sitting together and clicking, especially in a house gone a bit mad. Sir Thomas is still away, Tom Bertram has brought his friend Yates over to perform the play they had to abandon at a friend’s house, and the Crawford siblings are flirting with everyone in sight and seeing how much they can stir the pot.
This seemed exactly the thing that would stiffen Mary’s spine, as it stiffens Fanny’s.
I was wrong.
Mary has grown up a lot since her debut in P&P, and while her moral conviction is as strong as ever, she has learned a few things over the past two years and her attitudes have changed a bit. And as much as she tries to befriend Fanny, there is no great meeting of the minds. I was more surprised than Mary.
What about the other characters from Mansfield Park? I have to admit, this is not my favourite of Austen’s novels, and I have trouble connecting to many of the people who swan elegantly through its pages.
Edmund Bertram is everything genial and proper, and has been a true friend to Fanny since she arrived. But his moral backbone isn’t as strong as Mr. Darcy’s, for example, and he bends to Mary Crawford’s will on more than one occasion.
As for Mary Crawford herself, she is a wonderful character, as sparkling as Elizabeth Bennet in many ways, and a bright spot in the narrative. But where Lizzy’s impertinence shows her character as thinking of others, Mary Crawford thinks almost entirely of herself.
Henry Crawford is another terrific character, who is in some ways the most appealing in the novel. He starts off by dallying and flirting shamelessly and schemes to break Fanny’s heart, but I can see him really changing his ways as he falls in love with her.
And the Bertrams’ aunt, Mrs. Norris, is the character we love to hate. She is selfish and manipulative, and thrives on it. Her nasty little turns of phrase and self-congratulatory comments are gems of the zing, no matter that she is a nasty piece of work.
For my mystery, I have introduced some other characters as well, many of whom I came to like a great deal. My investigator, Alexander Lyons, has a good friend in Northampton, and it is in his house that the mystery begins. There are some interesting innkeepers, a chatty textiles merchant, and a groom from the stables whose sad past does not overshadow his strength of character.
Do you like Mansfield Park? Do you have a favourite character, or a least-favourite? Do you agree with my assessments above? Feel free to argue with me – I promise not to be upset or offended.
Here is the blurb:
The worlds of Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park meet when Mary Bennet lands in the middle of her third adventure with handsome investigator Alexander Lyons.
The two friends are travelling back to Mary’s home after a visit to the Darcy family at Pemberley when their journey is interrupted by the news that Tom Bertram, the heir to Mansfield Park, has disappeared. Alexander is asked to take the case, and he and Mary find themselves as guests at the estate. The house is abuzz with activity as plans go ahead for a fox hunt and the performance of a play, and Mary sees intrigue in every interaction between the beautiful residents of Mansfield Park and their sophisticated guests.
When the hunt ends in tragedy with the discovery of a body, Alexander’s involvement grows even deeper, but every clue leads to even more questions. The more Alexander digs, the more it seems this death might involve people much higher up than he can reach. And the biggest question of all is who, exactly, was the intended victim of what is surely murder most foul?
The two friends find themselves hard at work to unravel a web of secrets and dark goings-on that enshroud the elegant estate of Mansfield Park. But Alexander is hiding a secret of his own, one which he knows will forever doom any possible future for him and Mary.
Will they solve the mystery before somebody else dies? And will any hearts remain unbroken if they succeed?
And here are a couple of excerpts from my newest mystery, Death of a Dandy: A Mansfield Park Mystery.
The hum of conversation pulled Mary out of her reveries. Of course… she was back in the comfortable yellow drawing room, her tea growing cool at her elbow, Alexander still telling his old friend Elijah Meldola about Sarah’s wedding and his mother and sisters back in Glasgow. Alexander glanced up at her and gave a quick smile. Had she fallen asleep? Had he noticed? They had their differences, she and he, but he was far too much of a gentleman to draw attention to her faux pas.
He now turned the subject to his days spent at Pemberley with Darcy and Elizabeth and the babe, allowing Mary to ease her way back into the conversation, and by the time she had told her new friends of the sweet young infant and her sister’s glowing health and exultant joy, she was feeling very much back to full vigour. Those few moments of reverie had revived her completely.
Therefore, she was quite alert when, a few minutes later, the housekeeper Mrs. Graham bustled into the room, leading a rather distraught-looking man of middle years and the mannerisms of a valet.
“Barnaby!” Mr. Meldola exclaimed.
“Most dreadfully sorry to disturb you in such a rude manner.” The man’s accent was impeccable, his gestures perfect. But his voice and face were laden with a panic, which must surely explain his unbecoming intrusion into a man’s private drawing room.
“Speak, please.” Meldola rose from his seat.
“I have been seeking Mr. Bertram. He did not return to his rooms last night, and has not been seen in any of the…” He cleared his throat and reddened. “In any of the usual places. I hoped he might have taken some refuge here, as I know he sometimes does.” His eyes pleaded with the two Meldolas.
“I am afraid I cannot help you,” Mr. Meldola replied in a tight voice. “I have not seen him, nor heard word of him, in about six weeks, not since the last time he, er, requested a bed for the night.”
Barnaby staggered to a chair and seemed about to collapse into it before remembering his status as a valet in the house of an esteemed merchant.
“Then I am most afraid,” he choked, “that Tom Bertram has disappeared.”
Mrs. Norris was her sister’s opposite in every way. Although handsome in her own right, her features were strong and her manner stronger. She was officious and bustling, and all but scolded Edmund for having the effrontery to engage an investigator in the search for Tom. She eyed Mary as if she were an unwelcome rat in the larder until Edmund made an obvious mention of her father’s estate and her brother-in-law’s great wealth. Perhaps to be related to the esteemed Mr. Darcy of Pemberley was the only thing that could instal her in the shrewd-eyed lady’s good graces.
“‘Tis only a pity,” Miss Maria Bertram sighed as Alexander announced he must be off to Northampton soon, “that you should have to depart before meeting our neighbours. They are also in the play and are here almost the entire day as we rehearse our scenes.”
“Neighbours?” Alexander raised his eyebrows. “Ah yes, your brother mentioned them. Mr. and Miss Crawford, if I recall. I should like to meet them.”
“Mr. Bertram, sir, a message from Mr. Maddox,” the butler announced from the doorway. Edmund leapt from his chair, followed by Alexander.
Mary now sat alone, surrounded by these strange and beautiful people who buzzed and chattered with an elegance she could never attain. She felt like a moth in a greenhouse full of butterflies, almost one of them, and yet separated by the greatest chasm. Only Miss Fanny Price, who had said not a word since Yates first entered, seemed of her species, and she gravitated towards the young lady. Mary sought some innocuous topic to coax the poor cousin into conversation and had managed to elicit a few words from her when Alexander and Edmund returned. Alexander beckoned her to join them at the doorway.
“Miss Bennet,” Edmund bowed before her, “we would be honoured if you would grace our house with your presence until we locate my brother.”
Alexander leaned close enough that his quiet words might not be overheard in the hum of conversation in the room. “He was not at Stoke. Maddox wrote that he arrived early on Wednesday, but departed shortly after noon, supposedly for Northampton. I would travel there too—to Stoke, that is—to speak with the two men, but they are expected at Mansfield Park later today to join in tomorrow’s hunt. Stay here, Mary. You can be my eyes and ears. I have places to go in Northampton where I cannot take you, and I would benefit from your observations. Will you do it?”
She nodded quietly, despite her discomfort. She had been sufficiently uncomfortable last year when forced by circumstances to stay a week at Hartfield with Miss Emma Woodhouse. There it had only been the two of them, and the lady’s elderly father who cared more for his digestion than the fripperies of society. To stay here, at Mansfield Park, with these glorious and alien creatures, would tax her to the limits of her being. She was about to beg a reprieve when she caught a glimpse of Fanny from the corner of her eye. Fanny Price was a young lady she could understand; perhaps she might befriend the girl. That alone gave her the strength to accede to Alexander’s request. For him, and with the hope of a connection with Fanny, she would do it.
After a pause, in an audible voice, she replied to Edmund, “I thank you, sir, for your invitation. I would be delighted to accept.”
Alexander grabbed her hands and gave them a squeeze. “Thank you, Mary. I know you’ll learn something even if I don’t.”
At that moment, a hush settled over the parlour. Two figures could be seen walking across the lawn towards the house—a lady and a gentleman.
“How delightful!” Maria cried out. “They have come at last. They are the last two actors in our play. Come, Miss Bennet, our cast is complete. You must meet Miss and Mr. Crawford.”
Death of a Dandy is now available at Amazon and should be available at other retailers within a few days.