The Murder of Mr. Wickham, by Claudia Gray

I have read a lot of Jane Austen fanfiction, ranging from free stories on websites like AAO3 to published, high-profile efforts by well-known authors (those end up with fancier descriptors like “literary pastiche”, but whatever—they're totally fanfic). Claudia Gray's The Murder of Mr. Wickham is an excellent example of what can make a well-written fanfiction so much fun: the opportunity to spend more time with familiar characters, and imagine them in new and unexpected situations.

Gray sets her novel in the late Regency era, determining the characters' ages according to the years Austen originally created them. (This is a wider span than many fans might realize; Elizabeth and Darcy are in their 40s, whereas Marianne Dashwood is still in her teens.) Happily married for some time, Mr. Knightley and Emma are hosting a house party at Donwell Abbey. The guests are an eclectic mix of old friends, new acquaintances, and the teenage children of a few of the older characters—including Juliet Tilney and Jonathan Darcy. The party takes a sudden turn for the worse with the uninvited arrival of George Wickham, whose recent scheming has disrupted the lives of nearly everyone in attendance. All of the guests are murderously angry... so when Wickham is found dead, the entire house party seems equally suspicious.

As ever, is reading this equivalent to Austen herself? No, and it wisely doesn't try to be. Gray's versions of Austen's characters are well supported by the original novels (although several characters' worst traits have been emphasized), but by centering her story around two original POV characters, she doesn't need to perfectly imitate Austen's voice or characterization. Instead, her book uses reader favorites like Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse as chess pieces in an Agatha Christie-style whodunit. Everyone is given plenty of reason to murder George Wickham, and—as we're only given passing glances at what's going through their heads—nearly everyone is an equally plausible suspect. Fans who prefer an iron-clad happily-ever-after for the protagonists of the original books might find Gray's story off-putting, but for anyone who's willing to watch these beloved creations struggle through a bit more angst, this is a clever and immensely entertaining continuation.
Posted by: Julianka


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