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October 23, 2010

Murder at Mansfield Park

'After all, it is so useful to have one's genius confirmed by a professional...'

Since I love to read, and read about, Jane Austen, it's hard not to be tempted by the Austen-inspired fiction that's all around us. It's not a new thing, but it's more prolific now, and a lot of it just isn't very well written.

Murder at Mansfield Park is, I think, a little better than a lot of it. When it was published late this summer, I had just finished reading Mansfield Park, and I thought it would be fun to see what Lynn Shepherd did with the characters and the story.  I liked that she turns the characters, and their roles, inside out:  Fanny is the wealthy heiress, and it's Julia Bertram who is constantly scolded by Mrs. Norris. Sir Thomas becomes gravely ill, and Tom is sensible.  William is Maria and Julia's sailor-brother, not Fanny's, and Edmund is Mrs. Norris' step-son, not her nephew.  Mary Crawford is thoughtful and kind, and Henry Crawford has found work as a landscape 'improver;' he is still determined to make Fanny Price fall in love with him. 

Some of this matters, and some of it doesn't. What does matter is that this Fanny Price is wicked, worse than (the original) Maria Bertram and Mary Crawford combined, and that after disappearing from Mansfield Park, she is found on the grounds, murdered. (Not a spoiler; it says so on the back of the book.)

There's the interesting addition of a detective -- a 'thief-taker' -- who comes from London to find Fanny's killer.  The book doesn't work all that well as a mystery:  you might not guess who did it (I didn't), but it would have been a real stretch (an interesting one, though!) for the murderer to have been most of the people who fall under suspicion.  As other authors do, Lynn Shepherd also brings in characters from the other novels (Robert Ferrars, Charles Bingley) but they're not part of the story and it just seems like name-dropping.  And, all in all, the book just seemed a little slowwwwww. But it was fun to take a break from heavier reading with this book, and to see a little more liberty taken.

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Frances said...

Hmm. Tempting because Mansfield Park has special memories for me as the first Austen I read. And not tempting for the same reasons. And then the slowwww thing. Thanks for giving me the info I needed to take a pass.

David Nolan (dsc73277) said...

I know many people regard her as an insufferable prig, but Fanny Price is one of my favourite characters in Austen. I am not sure which I regard as the greater atrocity: murdering her or swapping the key traits of most of the characters. I doubt I'll be reading this one, but I'm glad it gave you pleasure.

Christy said...

I don't think Jane Austen spin-off novels are automatically bad news but this one smells not a little of marketing ploy. If the characters' personalities and situations have been so altered, it makes me wonder what it has to do with Mansfield Park at all? Thanks for the review!

Anonymous said...

I really loved what a good job Lynn Shepherd did using Regency language-- many authors struggle with it.

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