I’m going to tell on myself. I’m a sniveling, sentimental sucker for a good Christmas story. It is only October and I’ve only devoured two of them so I’m way behind my normal seasonal curve. Thank heavens for author Victoria Connelly, who sensing a good thing, has smartly thrown together ALL of the heroes and heroines from her Austen Addicts trilogy: A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, Dreaming of Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Darcy Forever.
Thus, her follow-up novella, Christmas with Mr. Darcy, is like a recipe for a classic Christmas pudding: combine growing romances, friends, family, a spectacularly decorated manor house, a sudden snow storm, mysterious criminal activity, full-throttle Jane Austen trivia, and then sit back and savor a large helping. Catch up with Katherine and Warwick, Kay and Adam, Dan and Robyn, Mia and Gabe, Sarah and Lloyd, et al, as they are invited to hostess and distinguished actress Dame Pamela Harcourt’s inaugural Jane Austen Christmas conference.
Along the way, we meet Higgins, Dame Pamela’s endearing and watchful butler, Benedict, Dan’s ‘neer-do-well’ older brother, (who invites himself) Mrs. Soames, (“Oh dear, who invited her?”) sweet Doris Norris, sisters Roberta and Rose, adorable Cassandra, (Dan and Robyn’s infant daughter) and a mustachioed gentleman who none of the invitees can seem to quite recognize. The author even manages to insert references to her own brood of beloved hens!
Victoria Connelly paints the holiday-decorated splendor of Dame Pamela’s grand Purley Hall while she builds anticipation by bouncing from one guest to another as they excitedly prepare for the journey to the conference.
In spite of a blinding snow storm, all of the guests arrive safely at Purley Hall and Dame Pamela welcomes the crowd with her trademark warmth, charm, glittering jewels, and stunning gowns. As the guests settle in, certain valuables begin to disappear without any trace. At first, most who have suffered loss merely attribute it to forgetfulness or failing to pack correctly for the trip.
True to her dramatic personality, Dame Pamela announces the highlight of the entire conference: her anonymous purchase at Sotheby’s of a rare 3-volume first edition of Pride and Prejudice for just under one hundred and eighty thousand pounds. The assembled guest gasped as she holds the delicately unwrapped treasure aloft. However, on Christmas morning, the unthinkable occurs. “Think! Had she really put the first edition back in the safe as Higgins had expressly told her to do straight after or had she placed it on her desk or left it somewhere else?”
With that significant loss the fun really begins……Guest sisters Roberta and Rose think Roberta may inadvertently have the first edition but aren’t sure. Roberta borrowed a three volume edition from Dame Pamela’s library and the books look ancient. Needless to say the fumbled efforts of the two quaint sisters to secretly return the suspected books back to the library are beyond hilarious. The proceedings are reminiscent of the board game “Clue” where everyone becomes a ‘suspect.’ That’s as far as this reviewer intends to go into this mystery or we’ll be treading into spoiler territory.
While many Austen fan-fiction authors merely dip the reader’s toes into Jane’s special world, Victoria Connelly baptizes with full immersion. I love her steadfastness because she may be limiting her readership in order to lavish on her Janeite fans their full measure. Indeed, some of the trivia references even threw this Jane Austen addict for a loop! Can the naïve’ reader, who may not fathom many of the references to Miss Austen’s works, still enjoy this story? What’s there not to be delighted about in a romantic, festive, Christmas mystery?
Finally, the author teases us with hints of another sequel: there is a marriage proposal and wedding planned. Somebody reveals she is pregnant. Is another seasonal conference in the works? Hush, mum’s the word on all of that. Sophisticated readers may find the plot of Christmas with Mr. Darcy somewhat transparent and simplistic, but that’s not what this sentimental reader/reviewer seeks in a good Christmas story. I’m looking for the warm-hearted joy, romance, friendship, and love that the season brings and the author delivers that in abundance. If you’ve enjoyed any/all of Victoria Connelly’s Austen Addicts trilogy, it is never too early in the holiday season to catch up with your cherished friends.
5 out of 5 Festive Stars
Christmas with Mr. Darcy, by Victoria Connelly
Cuthland Press (2012)
e-book (110) pages
Kindle: ASIN: B009JTNIKC
Book cover image courtesy of Cuthland Press © 2012; text Jeffrey Ward © 2012, Austenprose.com