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The Matters at Mansfield: Or, The Crawford Affair    by Carrie Bebris order for
Matters at Mansfield
by Carrie Bebris
Order:  USA  Can
Forge, 2008 (2008)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Did you ever wonder what happened to Darcy's cousin, the insipid and seemingly spineless Anne de Bourgh? Carrie Bebris continues Anne's story - as well as that of other Austen characters, particularly those from Mansfield Park - in Matters at Mansfield Or, The Crawford Affair, the fourth in her Mr. & Mrs. Darcy mystery series.

Though this episode is my first encounter with the series, it's easy for any Austen fan to join it mid stream, filled as it is with familiar faces. It opens with Elizabeth Darcy losing sleep over her new daughter's teething pains on a visit to Darcy's cousin in Buckinghamshire. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is also there, with Anne, and Elizabeth feels sympathy for that poor young woman's life under the thumb of her domineering mother - who is busy arranging a match for her daughter with the unpleasant son of a viscount, Lord Sennex.

Elizabeth's attempts to help Anne go awry, when Anne misunderstands her kindness as encouragement to elope with her secret suitor, Henry Crawford. Of course, Lady Catherine blames Elizabeth. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam track the couple to Gretna Green (too late to stop the nuptials) and an accident forces the foursome to interrupt their return trip with a stay at the Ox and Bull inn in Mansfield - where Crawford is well known and generally reviled.

Lady Catherine insists on joining the party in Mansfield, and bullies Elizabeth into accompanying her. The plot quickly thickens as other women who have been involved with Crawford show up, and his lack of character becomes clear to all. When a body is found in the woods, the local authorities are quick to assume a suicide, but Darcy sees evidence of foul play and investigates with Elizabeth's help. As the bodies mount, the plot twists in surprising directions.

Though it's impossible to match the original, Carrie Bebris captures Elizabeth's spirit and wit - and Lady Catherine's self-centered arrogance - fairly well, but doesn't do the same justice to Darcy, who comes across as rather two-dimensional here. Nevertheless, The Matters at Mansfield is an engaging read for those who enjoy historical mysteries, and a delightful one for Austen fans.

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