North by Northanger is the third novel in the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery series, written by Carrie Bebris. Currently there are five novels in the series the most recent being The Intrigue at Highbury which was recently published earlier this year. The Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery series takes the characters from Jane Austen’s novels and puts them smack dab in the middle of whodunit’s. Elizabeth and Darcy are the main sleuths, with each book introducing the characters from another Austen novel into their storyline. The first novel Pride and Prescience was about just the characters from Pride and Prejudice. The second novel, Suspense and Sensibility includes the characters from Sense and Sensibility along with the Darcy’s. North by Northanger introduces Henry Tilney from Northanger Abby into the mix. The Matters at Mansfield, the fourth in the series introduces the characters from Mansfield Park. The Intrigue at Highbury brings Emma and Mr. Knightley into the Darcy’s lives. According to Bebris’s author profile on goodreads.com, she is currently working on a book that is influenced by Persuasion. I’m assuming that this book would be the sixth in the series, as Persuasion is the only Austen book not yet represented in her collection.
Picking up where the last book left off, Elizabeth and Darcy have returned to Pemberley where Elizabeth is beginning to settle into her duties as mistress of Pemberley. She begins moving some furniture and after moving Lady Anne’s (Darcy’s mother) writing desk she finds a letter that has fallen out. The letter is addressed to Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Elizabeth is startled to see her name on a letter written by Lady Anne, considering she’s been dead over 16 years. Darcy and Elizabeth read the letter, written the day Lady Anne died, and find that it implores Fitzwilliam’s future wife to find an object that held great importance to her. Having no idea where to start looking the two push aside the letter and focus more on finding a suitable person to help with the delivery of their first child. They travel to Bath to meet with a doctor that Darcy has deemed appropriate to birth his first-born child. While in Bath a Captain Frederick Tilney sends a letter with an invitation for the Darcys to come to his home, Northanger Abby. He states that their mothers were friends and that he would like to renew the acquaintance between the families. Upon their arrival at Northanger Abby they are quickly ushered into the home by a woman with no manners, the Darcy’s servants go missing, and they are left to eat without their host. (While dressing for dinner, the Darcy’s happen upon a beautiful set of diamonds left in the dresser in their room) Upon finishing dinner they are quickly brought to a room that has a bandaged Captain Frederick Tilney in it. Frederick tells them that he had an accident while training his men and then begins to candidly ask questions about Lady Anne and a memento of some kind. Elizabeth and Darcy feel uneasy with the questioning, and excuse themselves to their rooms. Returning to their rooms they find that their servants are still missing and that their room is a mess. They pack their belongings and leave for Pemberley the next morning. Due to the inclement weather and bad roads they find they most stop at an inn for two days. While at the inn a constable comes to their rooms to ask them if they had been to Northanger Abby the previous night and begins questioning them about their time there. They come to find out that the diamonds they found in their bedchamber have gone missing and an anonymous letter states that the Darcys are responsible. After a search of their belongings Darcy’s walking stick is found to have a secret compartment (which Darcy knows nothing about) with the diamonds in it. Darcy is thrown in jail with the promise that they will return to Northanger Abby the following day to speak with Captain Tilney. Upon their arrival they find that Captain Tilney is not there, but his brother Henry is. Henry claims that his brother had died days earlier and that it could not have been his brother who met them the previous night. The constable throws Darcy back in jail to await his trial until the spring. Elizabeth finds that the only way she can get her husband out of jail is to get Lady Catherine involved. Lady Catherine comes to the rescue securing their release to Pemberley as long as they stay under her care. Darcy, and Elizabeth, with the help of Henry Tilney must figure out who has framed them for the robbery and why, all under the condescending nose of Lady Catherine. Lady Anne’s letter and her memento all come into play as piece by piece the mystery comes together.
This is my favorite novel in the series so far. The first two novels dealt with plots that included supernatural and mystical elements. North by Northanger went in a different direction entirely. After reading the first two I was expecting the supernatural to play even a small part in the plot. North by Northanger was the most realistic of the three I’ve read because it was believable. It’s not that far-fetched that you find an old letter begging you to find a certain object, or that people disguise themselves as someone else for less than honorable reasons. Bebris really found Elizabeth and Darcy’s voices, and wrote them in a way that I think Austen herself would be proud.
I really enjoyed the storyline that dealt with Lady Anne. Elizabeth grows into a more mature character while reading Lady Anne’s letters and journals about being pregnant. She becomes more in-tune with her feelings as an expectant mother which creates a new side of Elizabeth for the reader and also a new kind of relationship with Darcy. I was really surprised with the whodunit at the end! As surprising as this sounds I enjoyed Lady Catherine! She was a big presence in this book and it was funny to read the bits between her and Elizabeth. I was disappointed at the non-presence of Catherine Morland. Bebris makes one reference to her in the entire novel, which just seemed strange to me considering that her husband Henry Tilney was so involved. I read the book from cover to cover in one sitting. It’s an engaging and stimulating read that will keep you on your toes from beginning to end. (Best to not start this in bed. I started the book at 10:30pm, planning on going to sleep at 11pm. Closed the book a little before 2am, completely finished – HA)
4 out of 5 stars