The Mystery Genre Mixing with Austen-Homage Literature

The Mystery Genre Mixing with Austen-Homage Literature

Recently I learned that one of my Austen-inspired cozy mysteries had been named as a finalist in the 2016 Chanticleer International Book Awards. Today, I would like to introduce you to my four Austen mysteries and permit you a look at The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin, which has garnered not only Austen-related awards but recognition outside the JAFF world. 

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Although publishers long ago labeled Jane Austen-inspired pieces as “niche” literature, they erred. Austen’s touch can be found in a variety of pieces: women’s literature, romance, variations, historical fiction, paranormal, fantasy, and mystery. Over the years, I have written several cozy mysteries using Austen’s characters. It is easy to concoct a mystery story around her plots. Miss Austen provides us with a variety of stating points.

For example, without good reason, General Tilney sends Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey. He has no care for her safety upon the road alone. Meanwhile, his son seduces Isabella Thorpe and then abandons her. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Wickham produces a multitude of lies that mislead Elizabeth Bennet and others in Meryton. He seduces innocents. He plots with Mrs. Younge. Frank Churchill pursues one woman while claiming a secret betrothal with another. Mr. Willoughby leads Marianne on. He abandons his pregnant mistress. Both actions occur because he must marry for money. Henry Crawford blatantly flirts with an engaged woman and then elopes with her. Tom Bertram is responsible for many of the major plot points that dominate the start of Mansfield Park. His gambling debts are part of the reason why his father, Sir Thomas, must go to Antigua to take care of his financial problems. Tom’s debts also mean that Edmund won’t be able to move into the Parsonage at Mansfield Park when he’s ordained. Mr. Elliot abused Mrs. Smith’s trust and later attempted to claim Anne to wife so he might prevent Sir Walter from remarrying and producing an heir to replace him. Austen offers her readers a “secret,” perhaps not a major crime, but one that can be employed be a skilled contemporary writer. 

As the lady anticipated the modern romance, Austen also added to the mystery genre. The mystery/suspense plot requires the ending to be a restoring of order. Does not each of Austen’s heroines solve a “mystery” of sorts to bring her world to order? And is it not “love” that brings those involved together again and allows them to heal?

So how does one transform an Austen story to a mystery? P. D. James did as such in Death Comes to Pemberley. According to  W. H. Auden  in “The Guilty Vicarage” found in Harper’s Magazine (from a 1948 article), a mystery/detective story requires ” (1) A closed society so that the possibility of an outside murderer (and hence of the society being totally innocent) is excluded; and a closely related society so that all its members are potentially suspect (cf. the thriller, which requires an open society in which any stranger may be a friend or enemy in disguise). Such conditions are met by: (a) the group of blood relatives (the Christmas dinner in the country house); (b) the closely knit geographical group (the old world village); (c) the occupational group (the theatrical company); (d) the group isolated by the neutral place (the Pullman car).

“In this last type the concealment-manifestation formula applies not only to the murder but also to the relations between the members of the group who first appear to be strangers to each other, but are later found to be related. (2) It must appear to be an innocent society in a state of grace, i.e., a society where there is no need of the law, no contradiction between the aesthetic individual and the ethical universal, and where murder, therefore, is the unheard-of act which precipitates a crisis (for it reveals that some member has fallen and is no longer in a state of grace). The law becomes a reality and for a time all must live in its shadow, till the fallen one is identified. With his arrest, innocence is restored, and the law retires forever.The characters in a detective story should, therefore, be eccentric (aesthetically interesting individuals) and good (instinctively ethical) — good, that is, either in appearance, later shown to be false, or in reality, first concealed by an appearance of bad.”

Let us check off the requirements as they relate to Austen’s books: a closed society; a closely related society, that of a village; the appearance of an innocent society; and a society where there is no need of the law. Auden goes on to explain how “rituals” characterize the closed society and that the perpetrator of the “crimes” uses his knowledge of the rituals to take advantage of the community. Auden also suggests that the plot must include an individual of superior intelligence to solve the mystery and reset the harmony within the society. Look at Wickham in Pride and Prejudice. He uses his knowledge of the more lax care of innocents at seaside resorts so he might attempt to seduce Georgiana Darcy (at Ramsgate) and successfully compromise Lydia Bennet (at Brighton). It is only with Fitzwilliam Darcy’s knowledge of Mr. Wickham’s propensity for debauchery and the man’s cohorts that the Bennets’ world is restored. 

Resources: 

Auden, W. H. “The Guilty Vicarage.” 1948. Detective Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays. Robin W. Winks, Editor. Woodstock Foul Play, 1980. 15-24.

Check out my mysteries based around Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the latest honor one of them has achieved. There is an excerpt also. 

41K5KR61S8L._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg The Phantom of Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery 

2010 SOLA’s Fifth Annual Dixie Kane Memorial Awards, 3rd Place, Romantic Suspense

HAPPILY MARRIED for over a year and more in love than ever, Darcy and Elizabeth can’t imagine anything interrupting their bliss-filled days. Then an intense snowstorm strands a group of travelers at Pemberley, and terrifying accidents and mysterious deaths begin to plague the manor. Everyone seems convinced that it is the work of a phantom-a Shadow Man who is haunting the Darcy family’s grand estate.

Darcy and Elizabeth believe the truth is much more menacing and that someone is trying to murder them. But Pemberley is filled with family guests as well as the unexpected travelers-any one of whom could be the culprit-so unraveling the mystery of the murderer’s identity forces the newlyweds to trust each other’s strengths and work together.

Written in the style of the era and including Austen’s romantic playfulness and sardonic humor, this suspense-packed sequel to Pride and Prejudice recasts Darcy and Elizabeth as a husband-and-wife detective team who must solve the mystery at Pemberley and catch the murderer-before it’s too late.

51fjq16cNoL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery

A THRILLING NOVEL OF MALICIOUS VILLAINS, DRAMATIC REVELATIONS, AND HEROIC GESTURES THAT STAYS TRUE TO AUSTEN’S STYLE

SHACKLED IN THE DUNGEON of a macabre castle with no recollection of her past, a young woman finds herself falling in love with her captor-the estate’s master. Trusting him before she regains her memory and unravels the castle’s wicked truths would be a catastrophe.

Far away at Pemberley, the Darcys happily gather to celebrate the marriage of Kitty Bennet. But a dark cloud sweeps through the festivities: Georgiana has disappeared without a trace. Upon receiving word of his sister’s likely demise, Darcy and Elizabeth set off across the English countryside, seeking answers in the unfamiliar and menacing Scottish moors.

How can Darcy keep his sister safe from the most sinister threat she has ever faced when he doesn’t even know if she’s alive? True to Austen’s style and rife with malicious villains, dramatic revelations and heroic gestures, this suspense-packed mystery places Darcy and Elizabeth in the most harrowing situation they have ever faced- finding Georgiana before it’s too late.

41Rdaz+GSlL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery

2013 SOLA’s Eighth Annual Dixie Kane Memorial Awards, Honorable Mention, Romantic Suspense; Finalist 2014 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction; Winter Rose Awards 2014, 2nd Place, Romantic Suspense

A THRILLING STORY OF MURDER AND BETRAYAL FILLED WITH THE SCANDAL, WIT AND INTRIGUE CHARACTERISTIC OF AUSTEN’S CLASSIC NOVELS

Fitzwilliam Darcy is devastated. The joy of his recent wedding has been cut short by the news of the sudden death of his father’s beloved cousin, Samuel Darcy. Elizabeth and Darcy travel to Dorset, a popular Regency resort area, to pay their respects to the well-traveled and eccentric Samuel. But this is no summer holiday. Danger bubbles beneath Dorset’s peaceful surface as strange and foreboding events begin to occur. Several of Samuel’s ancient treasures go missing, and then his body itself disappears. As Darcy and Elizabeth investigate this mystery and unravel its tangled ties to the haunting legends of Dark Dorset, the legendary couple’s love is put to the test when sinister forces strike close to home. Some secrets should remain secrets, but Darcy will do all he can to find answers-even if it means meeting his own end in the damp depths of a newly dug grave.

With malicious villains, dramatic revelations and heroic gestures, The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy will keep Austen fans turning the pages right up until its dramatic conclusion.

51zxcx1ka8l-_sx331_bo1204203200_ The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery 

2016 Finalist for the Frank Yerby Award for Fiction; 2016 Finalist for the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense; 2016 Finalist Chanticleer International Book Awards in Mystery and Mayhem

Fitzwilliam Darcy is enjoying his marital bliss. His wife, the former Elizabeth Bennet, presented him two sons and a world of contentment. All is well until Darcy receives a note of urgency from his sister Georgiana. In truth, Darcy never fully approved of Georgiana’s joining with their cousin. Major General Edward Fitzwilliam for Darcy assumed the major general held Georgiana at arm’s length, dooming Darcy’s sister to a life of unhappiness.

Forced to seek his cousin in the slews of London’s underbelly, at length, Darcy discovers the major general and returns Fitzwilliam to his family. Even so, the Darcy’s troubles are far from over. During the major general’s absence from home, witnesses note Fitzwilliam’s presence in the area of two horrific murders. When Edward Fitzwilliam is arrested for the crimes, Darcy must discover the real culprit before his cousin is hanged for the crimes and the Fitzwilliam name is marked by shame.

Excerpt:

“What is our destination?” Darcy asked as he followed Cowan into a let hack.

The investigator arrived on Darcy’s threshold a few minutes before eight with a demand to speak to Darcy. Six and thirty hours passed since they parted, and Darcy knew relief with a possible lead to his cousin’s whereabouts.

“Wapping.”

Darcy did not bother to hide his surprise. “Wapping? Surely you do not think my cousin is in Wapping.” Darcy shook his head in disbelief. As one of the three roads entering and exiting London ran through the Wapping streets teeming with the poor, Darcy often rode through the area; but none of the beau monde visited the shops lining the road. It was not an area for the faint of heart.

The roads built by the Romans bordered the bluff above Wapping Marsh. In the 1500s, early Englishmen founded a harbor along the red cliff. Now, filth and tenements crowded the road, frequented by sailors, prostitutes, pawnbrokers, rat catchers, carpenters, and the like. Wapping once served as the place where pirates knew public hangings. The broken buildings followed, reaching to Limehouse, Poplar, Radcliff, and Shadwell. The streets twisted in upon themselves, often coming to unexpected dead ends—unsavory hovels. The steps of Pelican Stairs, Wapping New Stairs, and King James’s Stairs led to the River Thames, which brought both life and death. The residents catered to the desires of the sailors, who swarmed the cheap boarding houses and the businesses like the Biblical plague of locust.

“I possess a good accounting of a man fitting the major general’s description at an inn near Wapping. Rather than employing your Town carriage, I thought the let one more desirable for this task.”

Darcy glanced out the window to the sprawl beyond central London. “How did Edward fall so far? I never thought it possible.”

“War eats at a man, Mr. Darcy,” Cowan offered in explanation. “The major general saw more than his fair share of death in both America and upon the Continent. So much devastation rips a man’s heart to shreds.”

“I do appreciate your repeated cautions, but I experience difficulty in comprehending how the major general suffered without any of his dear family being aware.”

“Is it your failure to recognize the major general’s pain or Fitzwilliam’s plunge into remorse that you question?” Cowan challenged.

Darcy would dearly love to ignore Cowan’s question, but he was not one to shun his responsibilities. Even so, Darcy’s insides twisted in a stranglehold upon his heart. “I am not certain. Perhaps a bit of both.”

“At least you did not deny the possibility of your being equally at fault in this matter,” Cowan observed.

“Nevertheless,” Darcy asserted, “the responsibility for seeking assistance for what ails him falls upon the major general’s shoulders.” Noting Cowan’s scowl of disapproval, Darcy attempted to soften his disdain. “In truth, what I do not understand is my cousin’s abandonment of his wife and child.”

The Runner offered no conjectures. Perhaps there were none. Mayhap only an acceptance of the madness would resolve the issue. At length, the let hack entered St George’s-in-the-East parish, where the smell of fish, sweat, the river, smoke, urine, and businesses intermingled, and Darcy snarled his nose in response.

“Quite pungent,” Cowan remarked, “but not as repulsive as the smell of blood upon a once-sturdy companion. That particular smell stays with a man long after they bury the body. I can close my eyes and relive the odors, the sights, and the sounds.”

“I understand.” Darcy swallowed hard. “I will attempt to temper my criticisms.”

The coach rolled to a halt before a row of public houses. Cowan disembarked to give the driver instructions to wait. “Four times your usual fare.”

The driver looked about in apprehension. “No more than a quarter hour, Sir. Not safe to remain a standing target.”

“A quarter hour and not one second less,” Cowan warned. “Come, Darcy. We must hurry.”

Darcy tailed Cowan along a busy street to turn into a four-walled alley. Cowan pointed to a once brightly painted sign. “The Sephora.”

Darcy shook his head in incredulity, but he followed close on Cowan’s heels as they entered the dim foyer.

“Yes, Sir?” a woman in a low-cut dress greeted them. “Do ye gentlemen require me services?”

Her smile showed several missing teeth. Cowan ignored her offer, pushing past the woman to mount the stairs, while Darcy dodged the female’s grasp to follow.

“How did you know to look for the major general here?” he whispered when Cowan stopped before the third door along the hall.

“The Runners are a corps d’elite, guarding the main roads leading to London. One of my former associates overheard a watchman speaking of a gentleman taking housing at the Sephora. I asked questions of the innkeeper before I sought you out.”

Darcy nodded his appreciation. “Do we knock?” he gestured to the door.

Cowan dug into his inside pocket. “No need. I have the key.”

“I shan’t ask how that particular fact came about.” Darcy chuckled.

Cowan slid the key into the lock. “If the innkeeper speaks the truth, the man within is rather inebriated. If it is the major general, we must carry him from here; if it is another, we will leave him to his devices.”

With that, Cowan released the lock and opened the door on silent hinges. Grabbing a rush candle from a small table, the former Runner struck a flint and set the long tube on fire. Leading the way into the room, Cowan held the rush high.

The room was empty except for the bed, a small table, two straight-backed chairs, and a shaving bowl with an ewer. The stench of vomit and urine filled the air as Darcy’s eyes searched the darkness for a sign of his cousin. At length, a loud snort announced that the room’s occupant stirred.

“Who’s there?” the man slurred. “Leave me be.” He rolled to his stomach to bury his face in the single pillow upon the bed.

But Darcy and Cowan ignored the man’s objections. “My God, Fitzwilliam! What have you done?” Even with the poor lighting, Darcy could see that blood covered the bedding. He rushed to turn his cousin to his back. “Where are you injured?” Darcy tore at his cousin’s bloody clothes.

“We cannot remain, Darcy,” Cowan coaxed. “We must remove the major general before he draws more attention.” 

“But he is injured!” Darcy objected.

“The blood is dried,” Cowan corrected, “and a competent surgeon is not to be found in the area.” The investigator placed the quickly burning paper tube in a high vase. “Assist me in lifting Fitzwilliam to his feet. The coach is waiting.”

Darcy did not agree, but he bowed to Cowan’s expertise in such matters. Together, they each grabbed an arm and pulled Edward Fitzwilliam first to a seated position and then to his feet.

“Grab his purse and pistol from the table,” Darcy instructed.

Edward’s knees buckled under his weight, and Darcy scrambled to wrap his cousin’s arm about his shoulder. Cowan did the same, and between them, they managed to drag the major general to the room door.

“How do we maneuver him down the stairs?”

“Release him and permit Fitzwilliam to roll down them.” Cowan smiled with sardonic amusement.

As they struggled to pull his cousin through the door, Darcy grunted, “It is a tempting idea.”

To Darcy’s amazement, Edward did not stir until they reached the main street and the coach. As they departed the Sephora, Darcy noted that Cowan slipped several coins and the room key into the innkeeper’s hand. Irritated by the indignity of chasing his cousin to a run-down establishment, without ceremony, Darcy dumped Edward into the floor’s muck, squeezing his cousin’s long legs into a curled position.

The scene would make an excellent burlesque if the situation were not so serious. He and Cowan crawled over Edward’s form to assume a crowded seat.

“We should take my cousin through the mews. I do not wish the neighbors to observe our entrance.”

A wary expression crossed Cowan’s features. “Agreed.”

Darcy sighed with resignation as the coach rolled forward. “Look at him.” He toed his cousin’s drunken form. “Behold the second son of the Earl of Matlock,” Darcy said with contempt. “No better than a common vagrant lying in the filth.”

“The major general succumbed to the pain that never leaves a man: The fear that failure haunts his steps.” 

Bridled with resentment, Darcy frowned. “You speak of a man I do not know. Over the years, Edward Fitzwilliam was my most constant companion. How do I justify this man’s infirmary with the gentleman who claimed my sister’s heart.” Darcy studied the dirt and dried blood, which marred his cousin’s classically handsome features. “I am glad Georgiana will not see him thusly. It would kill her to know her husband sought to destroy himself.”

Except for the snore of an intoxicated man, they finished the journey in silence.

Arriving at Darcy House, Darcy instructed several of his footmen to carry the major general to one of the guest rooms before ordering a bath. “I will not have that stench filling Mrs. Darcy’s home,” he told Cowan.

Afterwards, Darcy dispatched a footman to Lockland Hall for fresh clothes while two of Darcy’s men bathed his cousin. Edward used every curse word concocted by man until Cowan assumed the role of commanding officer and demanded the major general act the part of a gentleman.

Darcy’s housekeeper delivered coffee, which the major general consumed in silence, and slowly, a sense of order arrived.

“Where am I?” Edward asked as his conscious mind fought with his unconscious one.

“Darcy House.”

Edward opened one eye to behold Darcy’s uninterrupted scowl. “I thought I recognized your voice.” He closed his eyes again. “Please tell me my wife is not here.”

“My sister and Elizabeth remain at Yadkin Hall.”

His cousin blocked the light with his forearm. “It is best Georgiana not observe the failure I have become.”

“Bloody hell, Edward! I never heard anything so absurd! Mrs. Fitzwilliam loves you, and you treat her poorly!” Darcy gestured to Edward’s nude body draped with the counterpane. “You abuse all which you profess to hold most dear.”

“You do not understand.” A pang of guilt filled Edward’s voice.

“Then explain it to me. Better yet, permit me to send for Georgiana, and you can explain it to her. She is the one you must trust with your secrets.”

“Georgiana must hate me,” Edward moaned.

Darcy recognized his cousin’s plea for empathy as an empty promise. Edward’s continual self-pity frustrated Darcy.

“We will discuss this in more detail later. You should rest now.”

“Do not send for Georgie. I beg you, Darcy,” his cousin implored.

“I will not send for Mrs. Fitzwilliam, but I do mean to send word that you are safe. Neither Mrs. Darcy nor my sister deserves to spend another hour in worry over your actions.”

He could not control speaking in disappointment.

“I thought better of you, Edward.”

24 Responses to The Mystery Genre Mixing with Austen-Homage Literature

  1. Congratulations Regina! Your books are such a joy. And this post was so informative. I found so many delicious pieces of advice. Thank you!

  2. Congratulations Regina! As others have said it is certainly well deserved! I have read all of them (all before I started doing reviews) and so enjoyed them! I also love mystery novels and always try to figure out who the culprit is. I hope to get back to re-read them and do a review!

    • When I was still teaching, we had a program where we brought in a young adult author each year to speak to our students. One year we brought in Joan Lowery Nixon. She had a play (I think written by her and her daughter.), and our local amateur theatre took up the production. It was short. The premise was that a statue was being dedicated and our students would be the first to see it. However, in the middle of the supposed dedication, our librarian ran in and claimed there had been a murder in the library. We had the outline of a body on the floor. In math class, the students worked out the time line to see which suspects had the opportunity. In science class, the students dusted for prints, etc. In English class we looked for the “red herring.” It was a great opportunity to introduce middle schoolers to the mystery genre.

        • I always laughed when the kids were surprised with the outcome of their mysteries. They were always surprised, which is what a writer wants. I recall being so enthralled with the ending of Around the World in 80 Days. The international date line made all the difference. LOL!

        • We were a state model language arts school. We had 50-100 visitors per month to observe our program. It was a great situation for the teachers developed it rather than it being mandated by the state.

        • We developed 8 themes per grade, and the teachers were to teach at least six of them. We taught concepts and ideas, not a particular book. For example, we taught science fiction that could become science fact. For example, in Madeleine L’Engle’s “Arm of the Starfish,” someone has managed to come up with a formula so that humans can regenerate a limb in the same manner as a starfish can regenerate one. In the 1990s that was science fiction, but we get closer to it becoming science fact each date, especially with robotic arms. The students made brochures on the “science” part of the book they read and recommended the book to others. Those brochures were distributed at the Center for Science and Industry.
          I developed a unit on multiculturalism that earned me a placement on a national Media Literacy Commission (along with Al Pacino, I might add). It was how I eventually became media literacy consultant – teaching our children “how” to read the visual media with which they are bombarded every day.

  3. Mysteries are my favourite genre to read and I love when they are mixed with Austen, I have liked your stories but I really didn’t like P. D.James’s book – expected a much better plot from her.

    • As I have read several of P. D. James’s books, I was looking forward to Death Comes to Pemberley, but like you I was disappointed. The film adaptation was superior to the book, in my opinion. Of course, neither the publishing world or the BBC cared for our opinions. They made money with her name recognition.

  4. Regina, you are so good at mysteries. In the excerpt I loved the description of Wapping and the mystery of what has happened to Colonel Fitzwilliam. I’ll have to pick up this last one. Thanks, Jen

  5. Congratulations on being named a finalist! That’s wonderful!

    I’m so impressed with anyone who can write a mystery, or read one and figure it out. Both my mother and grandmother devour mysteries, but apparently the ability to ‘solve’ them didn’t pass down to me. Still, I do enjoy some, particularly Lord Peter Wimsey ones and Hercule Poirot. I find mysteries in general daunting, but I’ll have to try yours 🙂

    • As a child, I loved Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Later, I devoured Agatha Christie books. What is more unusual for me is that I am a pantser, meaning I do not outline my books prior to writing. So often when I start the tale, I do not know the twists and turns it will take until I put pen to paper.

    • I think you will enjoy them. They are cozies, meaning the “detective” is an amateur and must use his/her head to figure out the perpetrator. There was no CSI in the Regency. LOL!

  6. First of all, many congratulations on being nominated for this award, Regina.

    I first became aware of your work early in my JAFF journey when I stumbled across The Phantom of Pemberley on Audible. After listening to it, I then used some of my credits to eventually download the rest of your books available through that medium. Sadly, The Prosection of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin isn’t on Audible UK yet, but I do have it in the TBR collection on my Kindle. I once said, either on a blog somewhere, or somewhere on social media, that I thought Phantom would have made a better TV drama than Death Comes to Pemberley, and I still hold to that. You kept me guessing about the identity of the Phantom for a good part of the book. “Is it him? No, can’t be because….. It MUST be him! No, can’t be because……” You get my drift?

    Are you planning on writing any more in this sub-genre? I do hope so.

    • I have a book planned that features Captain Wentworth and Colonel Fitzwilliam that will link The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin and Captain Frederick Wentworth’s Persuasion together, but first I must finish the third book in my Twins trilogy for Black Opal Books. It got interrupted when A Dance with Mr. Darcy kept screaming at me to write that story.
      The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin was from a different publisher than the other three books. That is why the Audible has not been made. I get my rights to it back in July, and I am thinking of turning it into an Audible book then.

      • Thanks for that info. I’ll be looking out for it. I love the sound of the planned book. I’m very fond of crossovers and for it to feature my two favourite Regency military men is even better. OK, I know they’re fictional military men but that doesn’t make them any less real!!!

Your thoughts are precious!