This book brings together two of my favourite (literary) things – Jane Austen and the murder mystery. Like many people, I’ve always found Mansfield Park the least appealing of her novels – no smart and sassy Elizabeth Bennett, just the feeble and fretful Fanny Price. It’s always intrigued me why Austen chose to make her heroine so dreary, and one of the things I wanted to do in this book was up-end the original and see if I could write a much lighter, more playful (and funnier) version.
Funnier, that is, until the brutal intrusion of a violent death. Because the other thing that always occurred to me about Mansfield Park was how much it resembled the set-up of the classic English detective story – a group of characters in a relatively isolated setting, with plenty of simmering tensions and under-currents, and where the arrival of a charismatic outsider sparks a chain of ultimately murderous events. I have to confess that I really enjoyed creating Charles Maddox, my London thief-taker, who explodes into the elegant Mansfield milieu with all the force of an asteroid. His world is a very long way from the world of Austen’s novels (though not, of course, from the world she lived in), and with his arrival the layers of propriety and convention at Mansfield Park start to be stripped away, and we discover dark deeds and even darker secrets.
I hope anyone who likes a good old-fashioned murder will like this, and I’m particularly proud of the fact that very few people have guessed the murderer and motive right first time round. So the question is – can you?
Murder at Mansfield Park is published by Beautiful Books