Many fans of Jane Austen’s Emma have described it as one of the first mystery novels. A mystery novel with no major crimes or dead bodies. Well, The Highbury Murders seeks to change all that. The game is afoot!
The novel takes place about a year after the events of Emma. Mr. and Mrs. Knightley are happily married and living with Mr. Woodhouse and their infant son at Hartfield. Emma still socializes with her friends Mrs. Weston and the new Mrs. Martin, while Mr. and Mrs. Frank Churchill are staying in London. Austen’s original began with a marriage, but this story opens with a death. Mrs. Bates has passed away and the village of Highbury must get to work making arrangements for her funeral, comforting her daughter, and generally mourning her passing.
Even with all these new developments in Highbury, Emma still can’t help letting her active imagination run a little wild. Will the Churchills arrive in time for the funeral? Why do the Eltons seem so concerned about money all of a sudden? And who are the strangers that Harriet saw lurking outside her back door? When serious crimes begin occurring, Emma must use her wit and intelligence to help her husband get to the bottom of these dastardly deeds. Will Emma and Mr. Knightley be able to figure out whodunit before tragedy strikes again?
This story is a continuation of Emma and it really blends very seamlessly with the first book. The plot flowed perfectly from the original, so I could imagine all these things happening to the folks we know and love in Highbury. The author also writes very well. As soon as I started reading, I was impressed with the way she captured Jane Austen’s language, tone, and style. That’s no easy feat and it really helped me to get invested in the story.
The characters, too, are natural extensions of the original. Emma is just as witty and spirited as always, though marrying Mr. Knightley has helped to make her a little bit wiser. I really enjoyed reading the details about their married life together as they are one of my favorite Austen couples. Other minor characters have expanded and delightful roles. Mrs. Elton is as ill-mannered, obnoxious, and comical as ever. And poor Mr. Woodhouse! How can he even think about walking in his garden with murderers afoot?
The big draw of this story is the mystery that’s lurking in the background. Clues are regularly dropped throughout to give you the sense that something sinister is coming. The book is short, but, it’s not until nearly a third of the way through that a major crime truly hits Highbury. And we’re halfway in before the mystery starts to really pick up steam and get juicy. In my opinion, the story started to drag a bit after Mrs. Bates funeral and it took a while to get to the good detective work. But, it all turned out to be worth it once the criminals really came out.
In the end, the whole mystery wraps up rather nicely. We try to solve the crimes along with Emma and Mr. Knightley, but these dirty deeds aren’t so easily unraveled. There are many suspects (I know I had my suspicious about certain a vicar from the beginning), but the book finishes with a twist ending that I never saw coming. It was actually one that clearly tied back with the original and fit perfectly with everything that had come before.
Emma may indeed be a detective novel with marriage instead of murder as its focus. The Highbury Murders promises all the same mystery, intrigue, and fun of the original. Except with a whole lot more dead bodies.
4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars
The Highbury Murders: A Mystery Set in the Village of Jane Austen’s Emma, by Victoria Grossack
CreateSpace Independent Publishing (2013)
Trade paperback (162) pages
Cover image courtesy CreateSpace Independent Publishing © 2013; Text Lisa Galek © 2014, Austenprose.com