As a murder mystery, this stands up, though we don’t realize it’s a murder mystery until halfway through the book. The problem is, it also tries to be a takeoff on Jane Austin’s Mansfield Park, and the two themes clash. I found myself constantly confused by the fact that while the characters have the same names as those in Mansfield Park, their characters and relationships are totally different. It was hard to remember which set of characters I was dealing with.
Like Mansfield Park, Murder at Mansfield Park deals with three sisters and their offspring, plus several outsiders. But the families are different, though unfortunately some of the names stay the same. The oldest of the sisters, Maria, marries sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park. He is comfortably off, though not so rich as the Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park. She has two sons, Tom and William, and two daughters, Maria and Julia.
The second sister, Julia, marries a widower Mr. Norris. He is quite well off, with properties in Antigua, and a young son, Edmond, but the older Mr. Norris dies before the story starts. Edmond, here the widowed Mrs. Norris’s stepson, seems to share only the first name of the Edmond of the original Mansfield Park.
Francis marries a Mr. Price, but this Mr. Price is the heir to a considerable fortune. His parents do not approve of the match, and Francis dies quite young – apparently in childbirth with Fanny. By the time the story starts, Fanny’s father and grandparents have died, and while Sir Thomas, as her only surviving relative, does take her in, she is by far the wealthiest of the characters.
The most important of the outsiders are Henry Crawford and his sister Mary, with Henry being recast as a professional improver.
Lady Bertram is still indolent, and Mrs. Norris is still an interfering busybody. The other characters were totally different from those in Mansfield Park, though they have the same names.
As I said, the book stands up as a murder mystery, and it does have a good deal of Jane Austen’s style, obtained all too often by cribbing from other books. (Julia despairing when William is sent to sea owes a lot to Marianne pining for Willoughby, for instance.) But for those of us who genuinely like the original Mansfield Park and feel we know the characters, it is simply confusing.