I am delighted to say my first hello to everyone here on this fabulous new forum. I’m honoured to be part of such a terrific group of authors and Austen-lovers.
I have a few exciting projects on the boil right now, the main one of which is the latest adventure in the Miss Mary Investigates series. In the past, Mary Bennet and her friend Alexander Lyons have solved murders in the worlds of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Mansfield Park. This time, we follow them as they meet the characters from Sense and Sensibility. The novel, Death in Sensible Circumstances, begins when Mary meets Elinor Dashwood in a bookshop, and the two quickly become fast friends.
A large part of the joy I have in writing these mysteries comes from introducing our favourite characters from different Austen novels to each other and seeing how they get along. Sometimes things go as we imagine, but at other times, the results are surprising.
In my Emma-based mystery, Death in Highbury, Mary has to take refuge with the Woodhouses at Hartfield, and she is forced to spend time with Emma. Emma is a very gracious hostess, and Mary is suitably appreciative, but while the two get along well enough, they never quite click. I rather expected this, but what did surprise me was how well Mary got along with Jane Fairfax.
In the third book of the series, Death of a Dandy, Mary finds herself at Mansfield Park, where she tries to befriend Fanny Price. Aha, I thought, that will be perfect. A match made in heaven. Mary, of a similar serious and pietistic bent, will get on brilliantly with Fanny, and being two years older, her greater maturity will help Fanny develop a bit more self-assurance.
I was wrong. Despite my intentions, they didn’t get along at all.
Now, some of you might say, “Riana, you’re the author. They’re your characters. They do what you tell them.” Sadly, that’s not quite how it works. They become so real, they develop minds of their own. I was as shocked as anyone the first time my characters went off-script. It took me three chapters to chase them down and nudge them back towards the storyline I’d mapped out for them. Fortunately, they were satisfied with the Happily-Ever-After I had in mind for them, but it was a close call.
Back to Mary Bennet, she tried to like Fanny. She saw so much of herself in the younger women and tried to befriend her, but despite their similarities, they were too different in outlook to become friends.
But Elinor Dashwood is a different creature. She is the level-headed one, so sensible on the outside, always trying to move forward in as rational a manner as possible. Mary understands this. Mary understands the need for logic and order, whether that order is making sure the family has a home they can afford or finding moral guidance from a book of sermons. Likewise, the two women feel deeply but try to hide their sentimental side. Mary is hurt when she is ignored in favour of her older or younger sisters, and Elinor is heartbroken when she discovers that Edward, whom she loves, is engaged to somebody else. They get each other. It’s a friendship I never would have imagined, but that grew very naturally from the moment the two met.
Other characters from different novels interact as well. In Death in Sensible Circumstances, Elinor and her sister Marianne are staying in London with Mrs. Jennings, the mother-in-law of a distant cousin, and Mary is welcomed into that lady’s house. When Mary’s own mother and sisters come to visit, they also are issued an invitation to Mrs. Jennings’ house in Upper Berkeley Street. Uh oh, I thought. This is not going to end well. Mrs. Jennings, with her somewhat vulgar mannerisms and joking ways, and Mrs. Bennet, with her nerves… hide the crystal.
Again, I could not have been more wrong. They loved each other! In fact, they have a lot in common. Both come from families involved in trade, both have risen socially, but without the smooth society manners that some expect of them, and both have daughters who have married very well and (at this point in the series) both have grandchildren who are, of course, the best grandchildren in the world. And both love doing what they can to further the matrimonial interests of other young ladies. They are satisfied enough with their own situations that they can be generous in being pleased for others. In short, that first invitation led to several others, and a real friendship.
Lydia (who is not married to Mr Wickham, thank heavens) found something of a kindred spirit in Marianne Dashwood, and when Colonel Brandon was in need of professional support (of a sort), he called on Colonel Fitzwilliam, whom he knows and trusts.
I’ve seen questions about who would work well as a romantic match, outside of canon, but I’d love your thoughts on other matches. Would Lizzy Darcy get on well with Anne Elliot? What about Catherine Moreland and Harriet Smith? Would Edmund Bertram have anything in common with Henry Tilney? Did they know each other at university?
Tell me! Let’s chat about this.
In the meantime, here is an excerpt from Death in Sensible Circumstances, which will be available to purchase or to read on Kindle Unlimited on March 1, 2023.
From Death in Sensible Circumstances
These two ladies were everything complementary; they had similar characters and similar tastes, and both were silently nursing broken hearts. Their friendship now was complete.
It was not long before Elinor became known to Mary’s Aunt Gardiner, and then it was a matter of hours before Mary was introduced to Miss Dashwood’s cousin Mrs. Jennings. Mrs. Jennings was a lady of mature years, not quite a cousin by blood, but related somehow by marriage and therefore granted the esteemed status of ‘family.’ She possessed a great love of laughter and teasing, and a greater love of inserting herself in other people’s concerns, always eager to involve herself in her nieces’ affairs, and by extension, Mary’s. She had a good heart, despite being a bit vulgar, and welcomed Mary into her home at once.
With Easter on the way, Mary’s aunt and uncle were very busy at their place of business, and whilst Mary had offered to help care for the family’s four children, they were now of an age where they were engaged all day at their schools and did not need her to be hovering about. No matter that her stay in London was ostensibly for the benefit of her aunt and uncle, she knew that the real reason was to allow her some time to enjoy the city and all it offered.
Therefore, her aunt was pleased to allow Mary to visit her new friends as often as the two wished. Uncle Gardiner, it seemed, had known Mrs. Jennings’ late husband through matters of business, for that man, too, had been in trade, and spoke highly of him. He had met Mrs. Jennings once or twice and was happy with her character, thereby having no reservations about committing his niece to Mrs. Jennings’ chaperonage any time she wished. And so Mary became an almost daily visitor at that lady’s home near Portman Square.
Of the great many people who graced Mrs. Jennings’ parlour, the first Mary met was Elinor’s younger sister, Marianne. She was as much absent as she was present, frequently preferring the solitude of her rooms to the society of the tea table. Marianne was seventeen years old and very pretty, with a summery freshness to her looks, rather than Jane Bingley’s alabaster elegance. But the dewy glow of her flawless complexion was not matched by a spark in her dark eyes, and from what Elinor had said, Mary suspected that she was a third member of the Club of Broken Hearts.
Marianne did not speak much, but did spend a great deal of time sighing Romantically and gazing out of windows. With these exaggerated shows of despair, and the effort she put into reminding her sister of her piteous state, Mary began to wonder how much of Marianne’s woe was real and how much affected. The younger Dashwood sister also had a habit of carrying about some volume or other, which Mary soon learned were books of sentimental poetry. Every so often, and not always in any matter related to the conversation in the room, she would begin to read aloud some passage that struck her fancy, with the same fervour that Mary herself used to devote to her books of sermons. She had, she now realised with the wisdom of another three years on the earth, been using these moralistic works to carve out a place for herself somewhere between her older sisters’ wit and elegance and her younger sisters’ high spirits and silliness. If Alexander Lyons had not arrived and placed her, for a short time, at the centre of his world, would she still be skulking around the fringes of society, clamouring for a moment of glory or the attention of her elders? Alexander…
She banished him from her thoughts and resolved to be a bit more understanding of Marianne Dashwood’s melancholic cast of mind.
Here is the blurb for Death in Sensible Circumstances: A Sense and Sensibility Mystery
When Mary Bennet befriends Elinor Dashwood, she expects to become part of the young lady’s circle and be introduced to her friends and relations. She does not expect that one of this circle should die, far too young, and in most unfortunate circumstances. Worse, Elinor is secretly in love with one of the suspects, Edward Ferrars, and he is inconveniently engaged to somebody else. When an investigator is called in to assist, Mary is more surprised still.
Alexander Lyons expects to find death and deceit in his line of work, but he does not expect to come face to face with Mary, who hasn’t replied to his letters of late. What is she doing in London? And how is she involved with this sorry business of murder? Still, despite the tension between the two, they make a good team as they seek to unravel the mystery surrounding them.
From the elegant drawing rooms of Mayfair to the reeking slums of St. Giles, the two must use every bit of wit and logic they possess to uncover a killer, all the while, trying to puzzle out the workings of their own hearts.
To celebrate the release of my new book, I’m pleased to give away two eBooks. The winner will be selected randomly from people who comment.
Entries will be accepted until next Tuesday (Feb. 28), and Regina will pick winners with a random number generator. Winners will be posted on Sunday, March 5.
You can find Death in Sensible Circumstances in paperback and ebook at Amazon, where it is also free to read on KU for a limited time.