The Suspicion at Sanditon, a new adventure in Carrie Bebris's award-winning Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mystery series takes Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy to Sanditon, the setting and title of Jane Austen's final work
In Sanditon, along with their friend Miss Charlotte Heywood, the Darcys encounter an array of eccentric inhabitants that includes: Mr. Thomas Parker, an enthusiast determined to develop the quiet coastal village into a popular seabathing resort; Sir Edward Denham, an impoverished baronet with more sensibility than sense; and Lady Denham, a childless, twice-widowed dowager with a fortune to bequeath and a flight of distant relations circling for a place in her will.
When Lady Denham goes missing, most assume one of her would-be heirs has grown impatient. But when other ladies disappear one by one, it seems that some resident menace threatens not merely an individual widow, but the entire village. Does a serial kidnapper lurk in Sanditon, or is an even more sinister force at work? Mr. and Mrs. Darcy find themselves drawn into a frantic effort to discover what has happened to the missing women, before Miss Heywood-or Elizabeth herself-becomes the next target.
About the Author
Award-winning author CARRIE BEBRIS holds a master's degree in English literature and is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. A Wisconsin native, she now resides in Ohio. The Suspicion at Sanditon is her seventh book in the critically acclaimed Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery series, which also includes Intrigue at Highbury and The Deception at Lyme.
Read an Excerpt
The Suspicion at Sanditon
Or, the Disappearance of Lady Denham
By Carrie Bebris
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Carrie Bebris
All rights reserved.
"Yes, I have heard of Sanditon," replied Mr. Heywood. "Every five years, one hears of some new place or other starting up by the Sea and growing the fashion."
Our tale properly commences a fortnight ago, in another part of Sussex, where a small but congenial company gathered at Brierwood House, the home of Colonel and Mrs. James Fitzwilliam. The Fitzwilliams were relative newcomers to Brierwood, for though the family of Mrs. Fitzwilliam — née Anne de Bourgh — had owned the property for generations, it was only upon the transfer of Brierwood to Anne three years earlier as part of her marriage settlement that the seldom-used minor holding of Lady Catherine and the late Sir Lewis de Bourgh became the primary residence of their daughter and her new husband.
While the estate lay in a fair-sized parish, the house was remotely situated, standing so close to the border that its nearest neighbors were in fact part of the adjacent parish of Willingden. A collection of modest cottages hard-pressed to merit the title "village," Willingden could boast little in the way of commerce or conveniences — not a shoemaker nor surgeon to be found. But Brierwood House soon became the Fitzwilliams' home in all the best senses of the word: the place where they welcomed old friends and new neighbors into its rooms, and their firstborn child into the world.
The colonel and Anne presently enjoyed a visit from their cousin Mr. Darcy and his wife, Elizabeth. The Darcys were regular guests at Brierwood, as the Fitzwilliams were at Pemberley, the Darcys' home in Derbyshire. The two couples shared the most ideal of connections — not merely the accident of kinship, but also genuine friendship — and from the (predominantly) happy sounds that emanated from the nursery, where the Darcys' three-year-old Lily-Anne and one-year-old Bennet played with the Fitzwilliams' little Lewis, it appeared that relations among the next generation of cousins would prove equally amiable.
The children were presently nestled all snug in their beds, napping in the care of their nurses while the adults anticipated the imminent arrival of some of the Fitzwilliams' neighbors for tea.
"Will Miss Heywood be among the party?" Elizabeth asked.
The Heywoods were a genteel family with whom the Fitzwilliams had developed a close acquaintance since coming to Sussex, and whom the Darcys had met on previous visits. A warmhearted couple as attentive to their neighbors as the responsibilities and distractions of raising fourteen children allowed them to be, Mr. and Mrs. Heywood had done much to make the colonel and Anne feel welcome upon the Fitzwilliams' first taking up residence at Brierwood. Miss Charlotte Heywood was the eldest of their daughters still at home.
"Indeed, she will."
"It will be good to see her again." At two-and-twenty, Miss Heywood was only three years younger than Elizabeth, who found her a pleasant, sensible young lady, and very much enjoyed her conversation whenever they were in company together. "How are all the family?"
"They have unexpected houseguests at present whom we have also invited to tea," Colonel Fitzwilliam said. "A Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Parker, of Sanditon. The Parkers were traveling through Willingden when their carriage overturned near the Heywoods' house, leaving Mr. Parker with a badly sprained ankle. The Heywoods offered their hospitality while the carriage was repaired and he recovered. His ankle is enough improved that he and his wife plan to return home tomorrow, and to reciprocate the Heywoods' hospitality, they have invited Miss Heywood to accompany them."
"Have they a long journey home?" Elizabeth asked. "I am not familiar with Sanditon."
Colonel Fitzwilliam and Anne exchanged a smile. "You will be, once you meet Mr. Parker," the colonel said, "for he is quite an enthusiast on the subject. Sanditon lies on the coast, near Eastbourne, and it is gaining some renown as a new bathing-place. Mr. Parker is one of its chief landowners, and is working hard to develop the village into a thriving resort."
"The coast is already so full of such places that I cannot imagine the need for another," Darcy said.
"Mr. Heywood is of the same opinion," Colonel Fitzwilliam replied, "but Mr. Parker claims the village is particularly well suited for such a purpose. Indeed, he speaks of Sanditon in such glowing terms that I am considering investing in it myself."
Darcy regarded his cousin shrewdly. "Has Mr. Parker solicited you to do so?"
"No — it is entirely my idea, and I intend to keep silent until I have had an opportunity to evaluate Sanditon with my own eyes. I do not even know if he and his speculation partner would be open to an outsider buying or building in the village. He told me of several projects he would like to initiate, including the building of a Crescent, so they might welcome new capital that would help advance those plans."
"Speculation is a risky business, and I have never known you to be much of a gambler," Darcy said. "What is it about this particular enterprise that attracts you?"
"Mr. Parker and his partner, Lady Denham, seek to make Sanditon a respectable resort that draws families of good character, without the crowds and glamour and problems of the large, highly fashionable places — a quiet, private village; much more a Lyme than a Brighton. It is an attainable goal, and this would be a minor investment — you know that I never wager more than I can afford to lose, whether at cards or anything else. Nevertheless, I would appreciate your more objective counsel in determining whether this is indeed a sound decision. Anne and I want to visit soon — will the two of you come with us?"
"How long a visit do you have in mind?" Elizabeth asked.
"A week, perhaps two," Colonel Fitzwilliam said. "Long enough to obtain a general sense of the place."
"We can leave our children here with their nurses," Anne added. "We think to go in a fortnight or so. By then, Ben and Lily-Anne will feel so at home at Brierwood that they will scarcely notice your absence."
Elizabeth turned to Darcy. "I like the prospect of returning to the sea."
"Very well, then," Darcy said. "Let us all go to Sanditon."CHAPTER 2
Sanditon was a second wife and four Children to [Mr. Parker] — hardly less Dear — and certainly more engrossing. — He could talk of it for ever. — It had indeed the highest claims; — not only those of Birthplace, Property, and Home, — it was his Mine, his Lottery, his speculation and his Hobby Horse; his Occupation, his Hope and his Futurity. — He was extremely desirous of drawing his good friends at Willingden thither.
Charlotte Heywood entered the drawing room of Brierwood full of happy anticipation. Tomorrow she would embark on the greatest adventure of her young life.
She supposed that for many young ladies, a journey to a quiet coastal village a few hours from home would not constitute an "adventure" at all, let alone a significant one. But Charlotte had not often traveled from Willingden. Her parents never left home themselves, the expense of raising such a large family requiring a certain degree of economy and restraint. And while they did encourage their children to take advantage of opportunities to broaden their experiences and connections, so far Charlotte's opportunities had primarily been limited to visiting her older married siblings and other relatives.
But now, happenstance had brought adventure to her door, in the form of Mr. and Mrs. Parker, and when the amiable, openhearted couple had invited her to accompany them to Sanditon — a rising seaside resort — her parents had deemed it a good opportunity for her to step out into the larger world. Tea with their friends the Fitzwilliams and Darcys, and last-minute preparations for the morning departure, were all that remained before her journey began.
Mrs. Darcy smiled upon sighting her, and advanced toward Charlotte immediately. Charlotte returned the smile. She liked Elizabeth Darcy very much. Like Charlotte, she was the daughter of a gentleman of comfortable but not impressive means, and though she had married very well, sensed that the elevation of her social status had not changed her nature. She was a warm, genuine, sensible woman, and Charlotte felt fortunate in her friendship, even if occasions to enjoy it were limited to the Darcys' visits to Brierwood.
"It is very good to see you again, Miss Heywood."
"Likewise, Mrs. Darcy. I am glad Mrs. Fitzwilliam invited us to tea before I left Willingden, or you and I would have missed each other. Have you heard that I am traveling to Sanditon with Mr. and Mrs. Parker?"
"I have indeed. How long do you expect to be gone?"
"At least a month, depending upon when an opportunity arises to return me home. The Parkers would like me to stay for six weeks. Mr. Parker is of the opinion that everybody should visit the sea for at least six weeks each year, in order to truly benefit from the bathing and breezes."
"You are not in need of the sea's medicinal properties, I hope?"
"Oh, not at all! My health is excellent. If the sea fortifies what is already strong, so much the better, but this is primarily a pleasure trip — an opportunity to get out into the world — or at least, a small corner of it — to see a new place and form new acquaintances."
Their tête-à-tête was temporarily suspended by introductions between the Darcys and the Parkers. A gentleman of good family and comfortable means, Mr. Thomas Parker was about five-and-thirty; his wife, Mary, several years younger. They were a pleasant couple, and conversation with them flowed easily.
"We heard of the injury that has kept you in Willingden," Mr. Darcy said. "You must be anxious to return home."
"We are," Mr. Parker replied, "though we have spent a most enjoyable fortnight with Mr. and Mrs. Heywood. A sprained ankle seems a small nuisance to endure for having gained such good friends in consequence."
"However did you come to be in Willingden when your carriage overturned?" Mrs. Darcy asked. "It is hardly a place one passes through on the way to anywhere."
Mr. Parker laughed. "A fool's errand, as it turns out. I would like to bring a physician or surgeon to Sanditon, and as I was leaving London, I saw a pair of newspaper advertisements announcing the dissolution of a medical partnership in Willingden. The former partner wishes to start an independent practice. The circumstances sounded ideal, and when my enquiries determined that Willingden was no more than a mile or so out of our way, I decided to come here, meet the man, and — I hoped — settle the matter. Unfortunately, I did not realize until talking with Mr. Heywood after the accident, that there are two Willingdens in Sussex, and the one with the surgeon is seven miles from here."
"Will you travel there to meet the surgeon now that your ankle is improved?"
"I wrote to him, but he has already committed to another opportunity. I shall, however, continue my search. Having a medical man in residence would not only enhance Sanditon's reputation and bring in more visitors, but also serve a personal end: I would like to bring my own two sisters to Sanditon this summer, but being invalids, they could never contemplate an extended stay in a place where medical advice is not immediately available."
"Your sisters no longer live in Sanditon?" Elizabeth asked. "Did marriages take them elsewhere?"
"No, they are both single, as are my two younger brothers. My sisters live in Hampshire with our youngest brother, Arthur. All three of them are independent, as is my brother Sidney. In fact, Sidney, through a collateral inheritance, is as well-off as I. He has a country house of his own, although he spends most of his time in London, or traveling about."
Tea was brought in, and as they sat down to take refreshment, talk turned to Sanditon itself. Mr. Parker, full of pride in and plans for his native village, told the Darcys more about his home. Eventually, though, the general conversation broke into several smaller ones, and Charlotte and Mrs. Darcy were able to resume their earlier discussion.
"Your visit with the Parkers sounds idyllic," Mrs. Darcy said. "When you and I next meet, you shall have to tell me whether Sanditon satisfies your expectations."
"By then, my visit will be so far in the past as to benefit from the softening effects of memory, whatever the actuality might have been."
"We might meet sooner than you think. Mr. Parker praises the village so effusively, that I am now all curiosity to see it for myself before we leave Sussex."
This announcement elicited not one but two expressions of surprise — the first, a smile which crossed Charlotte's countenance; the second, a glance from Mrs. Heywood, who was seated nearby.
"It would be wonderful if you visited while I was there," Charlotte said. "I have no doubt of being well taken care of by the Parkers, but never before having traveled from home except to visit relations, I confess a bit of trepidation at going to Sanditon by myself. The prospect of your being there sometime in the course of my stay removes even that small anxiety, leaving me nothing to anticipate but pleasure."
"Then consider it a certainty. Mr. Darcy and I had been considering a brief holiday, and I now find myself quite persuaded that Sanditon is the very place for it." Mrs. Darcy glanced at Mrs. Fitzwilliam. "I think the colonel and his wife might even join us."
Such delightful news could not help but reach Mr. Parker's hearing with the rapidity of a pistol shot, his attention so finely attuned to anything regarding Sanditon that a whispered mention in the next county might have drawn his notice.
Within minutes, all was settled. The Parkers offered the hospitality of their own home, but the Darcys and Fitzwilliams gently declined, citing a reluctance to inconvenience their family. Mr. Parker would have to content himself with merely engaging lodgings for them ("Something on the Terrace — I have the very house in mind, if it has not been taken in my absence") and with serving as their personal guide during their stay.
As the Parkers and Heywoods departed, Charlotte's mother expressed to Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Fitzwilliam the additional comfort it brought her to know that her daughter would have old friends with her in unfamiliar surroundings. "If it is not too great an imposition, would you mind keeping an extra watch over her for me?"
"Looking after a friend is never an imposition," Mrs. Darcy assured her.
To Charlotte, Mrs. Darcy smiled and said, "I will start by advising you to get a good night's rest before your journey."
Charlotte wished she could comply. But so high were her spirits, she doubted she would be able to sleep at all.CHAPTER 3
"Miss Heywood, I astonish you. — You hardly know what to make of me. — I see by your Looks, that you are not used to such quick measures." The words "Unaccountable Officiousness! — Activity run mad!" — had just passed through Charlotte's mind.
— Miss Diana Parker and Charlotte Heywood, Sanditon
The best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry, and such was the case for Colonel and Anne Fitzwilliam. Just as the two couples were about to depart for Sanditon — trunks already loaded on the Darcys' carriage, good-byes with the children already exchanged — a missive arrived from Anne's mother, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, announcing her imminent arrival. Traveling to visit a friend, Lady Catherine had taken it into her head to stop at Brierwood en route for a stay of at least a se'nnight, perhaps two, and would arrive in mere hours.
Both Anne and the colonel were needed at home to prevent her ladyship from harrying the servants and directing "improvements" throughout the house. (Experience had taught them that managing Lady Catherine was at minimum a two-person undertaking, especially at Brierwood, which her ladyship tended to forget was no longer hers.) They were determined, however, that this news should not alter Elizabeth and Darcy's holiday, nor delay the evaluation of Sanditon as a potential investment. They urged the Darcys to make the journey as planned; the Fitzwilliams would join them as soon as Lady Catherine departed.
And so it was that Elizabeth and Darcy were the sole occupants of the carriage that approached the village of Sanditon one sunny July day. Though the scent of salt air and cries of seabirds reminded Elizabeth of Lyme Regis, Sanditon appeared to possess a character all its own. Where many of Lyme's oldest buildings lined the steep streets closest to shore, the most established portion of Sanditon lay in a wooded valley on the opposite side of the down from the sea, while its modern dwellings and businesses stood on the great sunny hill overlooking the water.
As they climbed, the lodge and gates of a large estate caught their attention. Beyond, the top of a great house was visible above the grove.
Excerpted from The Suspicion at Sanditon by Carrie Bebris. Copyright © 2015 Carrie Bebris. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Table of Contents
Volume the First,
Volume the Second,
Volume the Third,
About the Author,
Other Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mysteries by Carrie Bebris,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I found this mystery very enjoyable reading due to the excellent description of Lyme and how well the author wove in her characters from both Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. The storytelling was exquisite with twists and turns that included handsome characters.