The fourth outing in this dynamically witty and adroit mystery series, The Matters at Mansfield continues Bebris’s tongue-in-cheek look back at Jane Austen’s characters. Contrasting with the earlier Bebris/Austen mysteries, there is nothing paranormal about this story - about which, I think, most readers will be pleased. The plot focuses on Anne de Bourgh, her mother, Lady Catherine, and the cad Henry Crawford from Austen's Mansfield Park. The atmosphere and individuals are true to the Austen genre and continue to provide Austin fans with subtle chuckles and clever asides.
Anne de Bourgh, at the oh-so-advanced age of twenty-eight, continues to be single, supposedly friendless, and definitely under her mother's thumbs She is a more completely three-dimensional person compared to the original Austen characterization, although I admit some of the cast in this book are more caricatures of the originals, my only real complaint about this mystery. At any rate, Anne, in desperation, elopes with the ne’er-do-well and completely rakish Henry Crawford. Her mother is hysterical at the disavowal of her own plans to marry Anne to Neville Sennex, an arranged marriage only a mother could love. As family and friends gallop after the fleeing couple, more details on Henry’s past evolve. Lo and behold, not three days later, as the now-married couple is escorted home, a body is found. There, the mystery begins.
The dialog and adherence to the Regency flavor of the times is remarkable, and it certainly keeps to the fun and games (i.e. quadrille) of the times as well. It is easy to fall into the story, and, if you are indeed an Austen fan, you will feel as if this is just the continuing lives of Darcy and his wife, Elizabeth. The scenes in Gretna Green are classic, and the “unhand her you fiend” type conversations are remarkably funny, as well as very true to Austen. The banter, so typical of Regency nobles and their fluttery womenfolk, is quick and droll as well. The zest of those who are struggling not only with murder but also with protecting Anne’s reputation is excellently drawn as well.
Bebris highlights the beginning of each chapter with a quote from Austen, and her admiration for the original author's fashion in writing, adherence to period features, respect for the fictional persons, and interpolation of roundabout absurdity all coalesce in a well thought-out and captivating whodunit that keeps us speculating and entranced to the last chapter. Duels, honorable and dishonorable noblemen, quick-witted and able-minded damsels, and shrewish mothers – what’s not to like in this easy to read mystery?