Claudia Gray: The Late Mrs. Willoughby

Mr. Darcy & Miss Tilney #2

Fans of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility will guess from the first the victim of Claudia Gray’s latest murder mystery, The Late Mrs. Willoughby.  As the second novel in Gray’s Mr. Darcy & Miss Tilney series, it’s pretty clear that Gray is working her way through Austen’s unrepentant rakes – or at the very least their families. It opens with Lizzie and Darcy’s son, Jonathan, being summoned to Willoughby’s newly inherited house for a visit.

Jonathan, a socially reluctant young man implied to be autistic, doesn’t want to go. He never got along with Willoughby in school and can’t imagine why he was invited at all. In addition, two of his other classmates, equally not his friends, will be there too. His parents encourage him to go, so he can get in some conversations with people his own age, but he likely would have found a way to leave soon if not for one reason – Juliet Tilney. Jonathan and Juliet met and solved a murder together in the previous instalment, and he’s eager to see her again. Essentially his only true friend, Jonathan has not yet started to think of Juliet as something more, but she certainly is leaning that direction.

Juliet is visiting real friends of hers, Colonel and Marianne Brandon. The emotionally charged events of the last book brought her and Marianne together, and Juliet intends to comfort Mrs. Brandon after this recent tragedy. Anyone not wishing to have the first book spoiled for them should definitely not pick this one up first – the killer’s identity is a major plot point. Having read the first book provides some background information, too, that clears up details of the world that aren’t clear until much later in this sequel.

Gray’s world is one where all the Austen heroines exist in the same universe. Juliet herself is the daughter of Northanger Abbey’s protagonist, and the previous book brought together Fitzwilliam Darcy’s nemesis and the cast of Emma. There is certainly a way to enjoy this book without being an Austen-ophile, but it definitely helps! It does, however, stand on its own as a solid mystery. Jonathan and Juliet would be engaging heroes even without their famous parents – it just adds a little thrill, knowing where they came from.

Overall, I’d recommend picking up The Murder of Mr. Wickam before this one to get the full experience. So many of the relationships and events from that first book are immediately relevant again in this one. The ending implies a third book in the series, which was a relief as saying goodbye to this cast is not easy to do. Then again, saying goodbye to Elinor and Marianne wasn’t easy the first time, either. Gray brings them to life again with a pitch perfect Austen style and excellent characterization. If you spent any of your rainy days poring over Pride and Prejudice, this is certainly the book for you. – Margaret Agnew


Margaret Agnew is the Director of the Cahokia Public Library in Cahokia, Illinois.  A graduate of Ripon College and Indiana University, she has been a mystery fan and an avid reader from an early age.  She was also a reviewer for Mystery Scene Magazine.