Monday, May 11, 2015

The Intrigue at Highbury (or, Emma's Match)

I don't like Emma Woodhouse.  She's shallow, manipulative, and a bit of a snob.  I don't like Mr. Knightly either - he's condescending and I can't get past the thought that 25-year-old John Knightly picked 12-year-old Emma out as his future spouse at their siblings' wedding.  Emma, however, has grown on me over the years, and I'm more sympathetic toward Miss Woodhouse.  Wealthy and with a married sister in London, she's the only Austen heroine who can expect a season or two and yet she stands with Fanny Price as the only ones not to spend time in London or Bath.  Smart and capable, she's run a household and managed her agoraphobic, hypochondriac father's neuroses since her early teens, but she's still stuck in a dull backwater with few contemporaries of her social strata.

I wouldn't expect Emma to get along well with Elizabeth Darcy, and Carrie Bebris probably didn't either.  The Darcys are on the way to visit newlyweds Col. and Anne Fitzwilliam (engaged at the end of The Matters at Mansfield) when a young, injured woman stops their carriage.  As they attend to her, someone steals a case containing an heirloom ring and layette.  They're near Highbury, so they report the crime to Mr. Knightly, the local magistrate.

Mr. Knightly, however, has other matters on his mind.  Edgar Churchill, Frank Churchill's uncle, died during a dinner the Knightlys held in honor of Frank and Jane Fairfax's wedding.  Mr. Woodhouse, of course, thinks rich banquet food is the culprit, but no Edgar had been poisoned.  Since Mr. Knightly and Mr. Darcy have a mutual acquaintance, they set off to solve the mystery.

It's not much of a mystery, really - I solved "who" too easily and "why" seemed slapped together.  The Intrigue at Highbury, however, works as Jane Austen fan fic.  Emma's marriage has not stopped her matchmaking, or her competition with Mrs. Elton - and both come into play as the two women try to find a husband for loquacious Miss Bates.  There's also a visit to Harriet Martin (nee Smith), an apparently high-born but mysterious peddler, a return of the gypsies from whom Mr. Knightly rescued Harriet, and Mr. Woodhouse offering Lizzy gruel to cure her convenient but fictional headache.   Bebris hit her stride with The Matters at Mansfield, and even though her mysteries aren't particularly satisfying, her novels are entertaining.

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