Murder & Matchmaking by Debbie Cowens, Paper Road Press, ISBN 9780473315696, Ebook and print.
I admit it, I’m an inveterate Pride and Prejudice fan. One of the things I like best about it is Austen’s almost absurd sense of humour, especially with her supporting characters and in Pride and Prejudice Mrs Bennet is probably the best example. She always did seem slightly unhinged to me, and New Zealand author Debbie Cowens obviously agrees.
Cowens was one half of the wife and husband writing team behind 2013’s excellent debut Mansfield with Monsters, and she brings a similarly original approach to Murder & Matchmaking. Jane Austen’s heroines meet Sherlock Holmes-style detectives when the unmarried young ladies of Hertfordshire start dying in mysterious circumstances. Miss Elizabeth Bennet suspects the deaths are not accidents, an opinion shared by famous London detective Mr Sherlock Darcy. Will they solve the mystery together? And, more importantly, will they get married?
He asserts that the loss of one young lady in the area might be viewed as an unfortunate event; that two implies carelessness on the part of the inhabitants; but for three young ladies to have died in such short succession indicates something far more sinister.
The mystery here isn’t in the “whodunit” because that’s revealed quickly, it’s in the chase, and I love how Cowens uses this to seamlessly meld romance and mystery. Cowens knows the two genres are much closer than most would admit – characters who aren’t what they seem, building of suspense and anticipation, and the big “reveal” at the end – and she makes the most of that to write a story that is at once familiar and original.
Where the author really excels is blending the writing styles of Jane Austen and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, crafting a story that’s equal parts intriguing and hilarious. Murder & Matchmaking strikes a perfect balance between imitation and mockery and, much like Mansfield with Monsters, the reader is hard pressed to immediately spot the difference from the original. One minute they’re all nicely taking tea in the drawing room and before you know it someone’s strangled in the idyllic Regency countryside.
It’s easy to enjoy Murder & Matchmaking but much harder to classify. Is it mash-up, parody, horror, satire, homage or just good writing? I say: all of them.