A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdey Pugh
This is a wonderful novel. It tells the stories of some of the characters from Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” in a lively and well paced style, as they struggle to come to terms with the fact of a murder in the gardens of the redoubtable Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Mary Bennet is visiting Charlotte Collins who has recently been laid low by the birth of her third daughter, while Mr. Bennet has been engaged in loud discussions with Mr. Collins. When the body is identified as being that of Mr. Collins, there are those who link motive to murder remarkably quickly. Fortunately, there is a magistrate on the case, Sir John Bright, who refuses to jump to conclusions, and he appoints a worthy assistant in the shape of the local constable, Robert Archer, wheelwright. While many books of rural crime deplore the local forces of justice, Sir John is determined that no mistakes will be made, that the real killer will be identified, and in this novel he and Archer are assiduous in their “Investigation and questioning”. Not that the narrative is slowed in any way; this is an extremely well written novel which combines so much in a comparatively short space.
This book has many elements of the best Austen continuation novels, such as the consistency of the characters from the original novel. Mary is a young woman with a genuine love of learning that none of her sisters shared, who had a passing interest in Mr. Collins when he was rejected by Lizzie. Lizzie’s disobedience in marrying Darcy against Lady Catherine’s wishes also covers the dislike that Lady Catherine still harbours for the Bennet family in this novel. So many small details of character and plot continue into this novel that it will please the most ardent Austen fan, but it is also very much a book in its own right. The research is impeccable in that when the staff of the big house are questioned, the identification of each house and outside servant is excellent, with even the youngest maid’s role being carefully established. There are so many enjoyable parts of this book that I read it relatively quickly, and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to review it.
The discovery of Mr. Collins in the garden is not only the beginning of the mystery; it neatly illustrates the firm character of Lady Catherine and the grumpiness of a gardener whose plants are damaged. Robert Archer is a fully realized character whose romantic interests are stirred by a certain Sarah, but who struggles with the light chat expected for courtship. In 1806 the investigative methods in the case of a most suspicious death are primitive, but Sir John is not one who will condemn an innocent man for want of careful questioning even if “the family” of the big house would normally expect to avoid such a distressing experience. There is an early clue that the murderer has links with the household in the choice of the weapon, but this does not make Sir John and Archer’s tasks any easier.
The murder mystery in this novel is not just an add on to an Austen continuation, but the writer obviously enjoys herself in terms of expanding the roles of relatively minor characters in the original novel. The setting is beautifully described, and the plot is well developed from the first. I would recommend this book on so many levels, to those who enjoy Austen’s characters, those who enjoy a neat murder plot and anyone searching for really entertaining read.