Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Janespotting: Suspense and Sensibility by Carrie Bebris

This is the second in the "Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries," a series that features the protagonists of Pride and Prejudice as they encounter various mysterious circumstances after their wedding. The first volume, Pride & Prescience, involved the Darcys solving the strange behavior of Caroline Bingley after her engagement to a mysterious American. I thought it was a pretty fun read, although I wasn't thrilled with the paranormal angle to the story. It was fun to see the Darcys as a married couple, loving towards each other yet still bantering back and forth.

In the second volume, Suspense and Sensibility, the Darcys encounter various characters from Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Since that novel was set 15 years before P&P, the character we first encounter is Mr. Henry Dashwood, the now-grown son of John and Fanny Dashwood and nephew of the three Dashwood sisters. He appears as an adult during the social season in London; there he meets the Darcys, who have brought Elizabeth's sister Kitty there to expand her horizons (and perhaps find a husband). Henry seems a little shallow at first, interested in little other than entertainment, but seems to become more serious after meeting Kitty and the Darcys. Mr. Darcy takes him under his wing, and by the time Henry proposes to Kitty, the young man seems eager to take up his responsibilities as a landowner and gentleman.

Of course, that's when things get complicated: Henry's behavior starts to change, as he drinks, gambles, and carries on in a scandalous manner reminiscent of his infamous ancestor, Sir Francis Dashwood. (Francis Dashwood was a real person associated with the Hellfire Club in the mid-18th century; while we lived in London, we actually visited the caves where Dashwood and his compatriots supposedly indulged in Satanic rituals—actually, probably just drinking.) Henry's actions force Kitty to break off the engagement, and he quickly descends into debauchery, going so far as to re-establish the Hellfire Club. Elizabeth, of course, suspects something strange behind the sudden change, and with Darcy's help manages to free him from the influence of a sinister mirror.

Now, I'm not giving anything away by telling you the problem is a sinister mirror, since we see Sir Francis and the mirror in the prologue to the novel, and that's the big problem with this mystery. It's really no mystery; we know from the beginning what is causing the problem, and so we're just waiting (and waiting) for Mr. & Mrs. Darcy to catch up. This giveaway isn't a fatal flaw; we still get to enjoy the interactions of Elizabeth and Darcy, plus we get to see them meet Elinor and Edward, still loving and practical, as well as the still-annoying Lucy Steele Ferrars.

So as a chance to revisit some of Austen's characters, this is a diverting enough book; as a mystery, not so much. I'll be interested to see where the author takes the Darcys when they visit the less well-known Austen works.

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