In an earlier post I mentioned my guilt at devouring this Austen pastiche, especially considering how slowly I read Jane Austen’s actual novels, and it is with further shame that I report that I finished Carrie Bebris’ The Deception at Lyme (Or, The Peril of Persuasion) in record time.
You may recall Mrs. Clay as the woman with whom Sir Walter Elliot was having a dalliance in Persuasion. She was a minor character but she assumes great importance as the corpse du jour immediately after she marries Sir Walter, just before the beginning of the book. She also provides a MacGuffin for the story by giving Sir Walter something he desperately wants, especially if he is to thwart the plans of Mr. William Elliot, his heir presumptive. The story also introduces new characters, including Darcy’s cousin Gerard Fitzwilliam, a naval lieutenant killed at sea after a skirmish with pirates; Lieutenant St. Clair who served with cousin Fitzwilliam; and Sir Laurence and his sister. Both Sir Laurence and Lieutenant St. Clair are possible suitors for Georgiana Darcy, who have accompanied the Darcys and their daughter Lily-Anne.
Of course the Wentworths and the Harvilles from Persuasion play major roles, the Harvilles being again pressed into service as caregivers for a woman fallen from the Cobb, the great curving harbor wall that almost acts as a character in this drama. Sir Walter remains as vain and distasteful as ever, his only concern for his dead wife being the inconvenience it has brought him. And another character from Persuasion, Mrs. Smith, Anne Elliot’s invalid friend, is also added to the very large cast of characters.
Ms. Bebris’ skill is finding a plot that intricately weaves the characters of Persuasion while still making the Darcys the protagonists, but not intruders into Austen’s last novel. And the interplay between all the characters makes you wonder (as it obviously has Ms. Bebris) what undercurrents exist in Austen’s novels. What are the minor characters up to after Fanny, Emma, Elizabeth, et al., leave the room.
I can heartily recommend The Deception at Lyme, even if I am a little concerned about the author changing the perception that we have of one of the characters in Persuasion. Then again, I enjoyed how a certain character in Lost in Austen was entirely reinterpreted, so I think I’ll allow the little tweak here, especially as I pride myself on having seen it coming.