Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Deception at Lyme (Or, The Peril of Persuasion)

I'm glad I stuck with Carrie Bebris's Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mysteries.  The first two installments delved too deeply into the supernatural - a genre that usually either annoys me or makes me giggle.  By her fourth book (a Mansfield Park sequel), she'd hit on the formula of fleshing out a few supporting characters from Austen's novel.  Here, the main beneficiary is Mrs. Smith who transforms from a simple gossip to the main source of background information on both the current mystery and the murder in retrospect.

The Deception at Lyme begins, as it should, on the Cobb near where Louisa Musgrove fell.  Darcy's cousin, Lt. Gerald Fitzwilliam, died in battle three years previously and one of his fellow officers, a Lt. St. Clair, is finally in England with the late Lieutenant's small personal trunk so the family (and Georgiana) have travelled to Lyme.  After a walk on the Cobb, they find the unconscious body of a pregnant woman - Mrs. Clay - who goes into labor shortly after they transport her to the Harvilles' nearby house.  She dies while giving birth to a son who becomes the pawn in a bizarre custody battle between her two lovers, Mr. Elliot and Sir Walter Elliot.  The baby's legal if not actual parentage is soon resolved, but how, and why, Mrs. Clay fell (or was pushed) from the seawall remains a mystery.

Also unknown is how, exactly the late Lt. Fitzwilliam died.  Was he killed by a French privateer, or was he murdered by someone smuggling artifacts in kegs of sugar from the West Indies?  Could he have been killed by the late Mr. Smith or Mr. Clay, or by the very much alive Mr. Elliot?  Captain Wentworh and Admiral Croft provide Darcy with valuable information while Elizabeth gets more than just gossip from Mrs. Smith.  The combined information not only resolves both mysteries but also serves to vet both of Georgiana Darcy's suitors.

Two strong mysteries unobtrusively linked and a strong dose of Austen fanfic make The Deception at Lyme the strongest of the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mysteries.  I'm happy to see that instead of ending with Austen's major works, Bebris has continued the series with a Sanditon sequel.  With Lady Susan and The Watsons also available, it may be a few years before Bebris either ends the series or branches out into sequels of sequels.

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