There Must be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan – A Review

There Must Be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan (2010)I was once told by an academic that Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey was the least read of her six major novels. Shocking. I can’t think why; or why we even need to rank masterpieces among masterpieces. I adore it. I will admit that it was the last of her major novels that I read, so I may be proof to her pudding. Yes, the academic shall remain unnamed and duly forgotten; but Northanger Abbey should not.

I sincerely regretted waiting so long to read it. I laughed and rolled my eyes at the incredible skill of Austen at parodying Gothic romances, and for creating a hero, unlike any of her others, whose sense of humor and endearing charm make the über romantic icon Mr. Darcy dull in comparison to Mr. Tilney’s sparkling wit. Who, pray tell, could not love a man who loves a woman who thinks she cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible, or who thinks people who have no pleasure in a good novel are intolerably stupid? *swoon*

Northanger Abbey sequels are as scarce as a comely heiress. I can count them on one hand. There Must Be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan is a welcome addition to the slim collection. At 118 pages and twelve chapters it qualifies as a novella. I am not complaining. At all. I will take a Jane Austen sequel continuing the story after the wedding of our heroine in the making Catherine Morland and Austen’s most underrated hero Henry Tilney without hesitation, but with a wary eye. The story has a promising beginning. The tone is pleasing and the reverence to canon characters a relief.

We find Catherine and Henry comfortably settled as newlyweds at Woodston parsonage in Gloucestershire. Ever the thoughtful romantic, Henry proposes that they celebrate the anniversary of their first meeting in Bath with a visit to the city. Once there they are reunited with Henry’s sister Eleanor and introduced to her new husband Lord Whiting. Also in attendance at the Lower Rooms is Henry’s father the dour autocrat General Tilney, his recently widowed wealthy neighbor Lady Beauclerk, her twenty-seven year-old unmarried daughter Judith, and her husband’s nephew and heir Sir Philip Beauclerk. Catherine is happy to dance the night away, while family differences bubble and stew.

Illustration by Cassandra Chouinard in There Must Be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan (2010)As Henry and Catherine continue to enjoy the delights of Bath attractions, they begin to learn that there are suspicious circumstances involving the death of General Tilney’s neighbor Sir Arthur Beauclerk brought forward by his widowed sister Fanny Findlay. She believes his death had not been natural – and it appears that many in this unhappy family would benefit from his early demise. The suspects stack up like winter cordwood ready for the fire. Is it the wife, Lady Beauclerk, eager to be free of his miserly pocketbook?  The daughter, Miss Judith, squashed by parental oppression? The dissipated nephew, Sir Philip, prohibiting his uncle from changing the will? Or the sister, Mrs. Findlay, ready to bump off all the heirs in line before her to regain the family fortune? Catherine’s Gothic inspired imagination may serve her well as a detective, if Henry can temper her impulses and guide them to a logical conclusion.

There Must Be Murder had me hooked at Henry reading Udolpho, Anne Radcliffe’s classic Gothic novel, to his young bride in bed. Brilliant. It is exactly how I envisioned their marriage would continue: Henry romantically feeding his wife’s passion for a horrid novel and Catherine finding new insights from the text from his patient and humorous explanations. The story cleverly builds, slowly layering in new characters, revealing family conflicts, planting evidence. Along the way we revisit Milsom-street, Beechen Cliff, the Pump-room, Laura Place and all the highlights of Catherine’s first adventure in the beautiful Georgian-era city. Sullivan has captured the charm and endearing delight of Austen’s characters beautifully, added new ones rich in folly and nonsense, and a Newfoundland dog named MacGuffin who steals every scene. The numerous illustrations by Cassandra Chouinard are enchanting. My only disappointment was in the length. It was over much too quickly. Austen’s Henry Tilney would have been annoyed, claiming this shortcoming was “nice.”  We will agree.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

There Must Be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan, illustrations by Cassandra Chouinard
LibriFiles Publishing (2010)
Trade paperback (118) pages
ISBN: 978-0615425870

© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

18 thoughts on “There Must be Murder, by Margaret C. Sullivan – A Review

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  1. Northanger Abbey was actually the first Austen novel I ever read and remains one of my favorites (excuse me for committing the sin of ranking my masterpieces, but I just can’t help myself). I have long pinned for more sequels, so you can imagine how eagerly I’m looking forward to reading this book! You have only further whetted my appetite with this review. Thanks!


  2. I was delighted with this story and also thought it was too short. I wanted it to go on, not necessarily the mystery as much as the story of Catherine and Henry. I want to read about the couple’s further adventures – which I know they must have.


  3. Thank you, Laurel Ann, for an intriguing review. Henry Tilney is indeed an underrated Austen hero! But are you sure you didn’t intend to say that “comely” heiresses are scarce? Otherwise, impoverished heros would not have to do so much self-sacrificing swallowing!

    On Northanger Abbey sequels — Jude Morgan’s Indiscretion (2005) wasn’t/isn’t a sequel, but Morgan’s a brilliant writer and, as I recall, the book has many echoes of NA. I don’t know if it’s available in paperback.


  4. After seeing Margaret Sullivan and the hilarious Mr. Tilney/Old Spice Man at the 2010 JASNA Conference (total highlight of a great conference by the way), I can’t wait to read this. Northanger Abbey has always been delightful to me and I adore Andrew Davies adaptation too (oh those irresistible ears on J.J. Feild).
    Congrats and thanks for this welcome addition to the genre of Austen fan fiction. Or as Bridget Jones would say, thanks for sporing your own gender!


  5. Mr. Tilney! -swoons- I, too, love his wit. And that for clergyman, too.

    JJ Feild made me love the character so this sounds like a fun read. It does seem very short.

    Perhaps I should write a Northanger Abbey sequel focusing on their marriage. With a heroine as young and naive as Catherine, there are many stories left to tell.


  6. I just received my copy in the mail last night and am going to read it next. Wonderful review that absolutely whetted my appetite–Henry is a wonderful hero and character.

    Can’t wait to read this one.


  7. I confess that NA was my least favorite JA book (Sorry, Team Tilney)……until I went to the AGM in October. I have now gained a great appreciation of this book and am excited to read Margaret’s sequel. Hope it’s in Kindle!


  8. Oh dear — I guess I now have to admit that I’ve never read Northanger Abbey . . . but will definitely be putting it on my upcoming reading list! There Must Be Murder sounds great.


  9. This is going on my TBR list…sounds like a great short read…Have always like Henry Tilney, just can’t hold a candle to Mr Knightley and Mr Darcy…


  10. Great read! I would love to have a place to learn about the ownership of the time. Seems a bit confusing. . . they had titles but sometimes no money ??

    Keep them coming.


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