Review: Murder at Mansfield Park by Lynne Shepherd

Hold on to your bonnets, there’s been a Murder at Mansfield Park! In this charming Jane Austen spin off, author Lynne Shepherd takes a classic English novel and turns it into a classic ‘who done it’.

Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park is the only Austen novel I have not read ironically, for some reason it just never appealed to me. Everyone says that Fanny Price is the worse Austen heroine ever, though I cannot claim my own opinion of the original Fanny Price, I can say with confidence I didn’t care for the Shepherd version of Price in this book which was the obvious point of her novel.

I’ve only read a few other Jane Austen ‘spin offs’ but none like this. Most of the spin off books are more of an extension of the original story, (largely in the romance category) such as Mr Darcy Takes a Wife….some are more eccentric parodies such as Pride  and Prejudice and Zombies…..but over all most of the spin offs are alike, which was the main reason why this particular book caught my eye….a Jane Austen murder mystery? What could be better, it brilliant and not been done before!

Shepherd and I follow each other on Twitter and when I went on to accept her follow request, I was intrigued by what I saw. It sounded like such a fresh take on an old classic…..I was so happy that I started reading it first and just in time the Halloween season!

Though there is no denying that I wanted to read the book, I was also a bit skeptical about reading a book where the principal Austen heroine, Fanny Price, is murdered, and Mary Crawford the heroine….talk about flipping the script! But I went with my gut and jumped right in! My best advice when reading this book is disregard Jane Austen’s version all together because Murder at Mansfield Park, bears little resemblance to Austen’s literary classic, it in both a comfortable classic but can stand on it’s own as an independent novel.

Personally, I think most spin offs rely so heavily on others plot lines and characters that they often have trouble standing alone, but that is NOT the case with this book. The principal characters are still there as is the structure of the original story (from my understanding) but Shepherd turns everything around making poor down trodden Fanny Price a rich, snobby heroine worthy of  being one of the ‘plastics’ in Lindsey Lohan’s movie Mean Girls.

Comparatively, in Shepherd’s version, Mary Crawford seems more like the typical Austen heroine, such a Elizabeth Bennett or Emma Woodhouse. She is a smart, thinking woman, who is very much aware of the her social position and ridiculousness of those around her. By making Mary the protagonist, Shepherd manages to convince the reader to forget about Fanny and join team Mary instead!!–No problem or objection on that one 🙂

One thing I especially liked about the novel was the approach to the mystery. I can honestly admit, I was totally surprised when the killer was revealed! The mystery itself is not overly complex but what I liked was how the motives are tried on for size I guess you could say. It was almost like a game of Clue….could it be Mr Crawford in the study with the poison? Or was it Mr Morris in the hall with the hammer? All of the characters (including Mary) had motive and means so as a reader I was left trying on each scenario for size to see which one worked best.

Another thing I liked was how the tone and style of the book meshed so nicely with the typical Austen style. The tone of the book was both humorous at times (I loved all the witty humor which came through nicely in the book) but the humor didn’t over-shadow the mystery or the Austen style. Shepherd clearly has a true grasp of the Regency style of language and speech which came across in the book. I loved that everything flowed nicely, few writers are as familiar with the linguistics as Shepherd seems to be with the ‘Austen style’ which really made the novel so much more believable for me.

The story/plot  keep me entertained throughout and though the murder doesn’t happen right away (100+ pages in and still no murder?) I was engaged and into the story even without the murder. I was worried that once the murder happened in the middle of the book, there would be no time to unravel the mystery before the book was over, or that it would be predictable….but I marveled at the speed which Shepherd wove her web of mystery, I had no idea who the killer was all the way through till the end :).

The story beings by setting up the love trapezoid if you will…. Edmund Norris is engaged to be married to Fanny Price…a young, spoiled, and a conniving bitch (for lack of a better term). Kind hearted Henry Crawford and his sister Mary Crawford are residing at a small house on the Mansfield Park property as renovators to the large estate.  The stage is set for drama…when Edmund meets Mary, it is clear he no longer desires Fanny…..not that Fanny cares for Edmund but if she can’t have him no one can….and hell hath no fury like a woman scorned! In the mean time, Henry is falling in love with Fanny and Fanny in love with anyone who ISN’T Edmund (truth be known she does favor Mr Rushworth).

As the events unfold, Fanny is discovered dead on the Mansfield property where Henry and his crew are doing renovations to the property…..all motives and circumstantial evidence favor either Henry or Edmund as suspects though none of the characters can be ruled out (not even Mary) as guilty parties. Thomas Bertram (Sir Thomas Bertram’s son) decides to bring in a ‘thief taker’ from London, one Charles Maddox, to help solve the crime.

As the body count grows, Maddox and Mary team up to try and track down the guilty party or parties and bring them to justice….but it is quickly becoming clear that it is someone in their close circle of friends and no one wants to admit that ANY of them could be murderers.

If you are looking for a unique Austen inspired novel, you have found it. Murder in Mansfield Park is like nothing I’ve read before, it’s fun, strong, witty, engaging, and mysterious. And if you are not a fan of the original Fanny Price, you are at least free to dislike her out right in this novel!

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Murder at Mansfield Park by Lynne Shepherd 

  • Paperback, 384 pages
  • Published July 20th 2010 by St. Martin’s Press (first published April 1st 2010)
  • ISBN 0312638345 (ISBN13: 9780312638344)

This book counts toward: NA

  • Hosted by: NA
  • Books for Challenge Completed: NA

Recommendation: 4 out of 5 (Fresh, fun, and an entertaining mystery….check it out, especially if you love Jane Austen)

Genre: Mystery, Victorian Literature, British Literature, Austen inspired works

Memorable lines/quotes: NA


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