(by Kelly Yanke Deltenar from Examiner.com)——Regina Jeffers is the author of the new Austen inspired novel, The Phantom of Pemberley, a murder mystery sequel fashioned to follow the events of Pride and Prejudice. Intrigued by the idea of combining the classic genre of sleuthing with Jane Austen’s Regency style, I spoke with the author about her methods and ultimately what led her to writing a book like this.
Is The Phantom of Pemberley the first murder mystery you have written?
Jeffers: The Phantom of Pemberley is my first attempt at writing a mystery, and I shall admit to thoroughly enjoying the process. Like many readers, I have devoured mysteries over the years. In writing this first one, I found that incorporating the red herring was the tricky part. Phantom fits in the genre of a cozy mystery. I lovingly call it Jane Austen meets Agatha Christie. A cozy characteristically involves a domestic crime, and in it, a gifted amateur solves the mystery with a clever explanation. Also, cozies often take place in country houses, which fits perfectly for the Regency time period. Normally, there is no political or social change being advocated by the writer, and as soon as the killer is found, one sees the return of simplicity in the setting . . . people recapture their former lives.
Also, in a cozy, the reader will find no graphic descriptions of violence, despite several murders occurring within the book. I liked the idea of the mental exercises of solving the crimes. When I read mysteries, I try to solve them early on. Often, a writer tricks me, but just as often, I detect the flaw before the resolution. It is part of the genre we all love.
Did you find it easy to slip into ‘gothic’ mode?
Jeffers: There are definitely elements of the gothic in this book: The most prevalent of those being the isolation of the protagonist, Fitzwilliam Darcy, by an unrelenting snowstorm. With no place else to go, Darcy must fight the rumors of the Shadow Man, an urban legend, while pursuing a disappearing villain set on revenge. Phantom also incorporates a typical gothic characteristic, the pursuit of the heroine Elizabeth Bennet Darcy. Of course, Elizabeth Darcy is ‘no shrinking violet’; she will not sit idly by and let herself become the victim.
In reality, my Vampire Darcy’s Desire held more gothic elements than does this novel: an ancient curse, dream visions, women threatened by a powerful male, and the undead. No, I believe, The Phantom of Pemberley falls along the lines of a classic mystery where observation and deductive reasoning prevail.
To me, it would seem a little difficult to set up the plot of a murder mystery outline. Did you have your culprit figured out before you set your fingers to typing?
Jeffers: Actually, I spent nearly a month constructing and researching materials before I began to write. Being set in the latter part of the Regency period, I needed to come up with ways to create the suspense and to execute the murder scenes and still keep the knowledge base accurate for the time period. The setting became a dominant element because everything described had to fit the time and place of the story. One cannot have CSI labs in the Regency period! It would be very embarrassing to incorporate elements that had not been invented at the time in which the story took place.
This process was a bit unusual for me because I tend to be more of a pantser than a plotter in my writing style. I always know the key points in the story, but the transitions between those key points is sometimes even a surprise to me. With this mystery, I did more outlining than usual, making sure that the reader got bits of information without totally revealing the outcome early in the story line.
The psychology of the crime was my central focus, using what Jane Austen gave us and applying those few snippets to this new situation. For example, Austen tell us, ‘Lydia was occasionally a visitor there (Pemberley), when her husband was gone to enjoy himself in London or Bath . . ..’ Therefore, Lydia Bennet Wickham becomes one of those trapped at Pemberley by the storm.
Likewise, Lady Catherine comes to stay. ‘[a]fter a little further resistance on the part of his aunt, . . . she (Lady Catherine) condescended to wait on them at Pemberley.’ It is important to me to use Jane Austen’s ideas to create a new reality. One will often find quotes from Austen’s works embedded within my story lines.
Aside from Pride and Prejudice, what is your favorite Jane Austen novel?
Jeffers: Persuasion is my second favorite Austen novel. It demonstrates Austen’s maturity as a writer and contains much more social commentary. Although she did not live to see it, the Victorian era proved Austen correct about the rising middle class. Besides, Persuasion contains one of the most passionate love letters of all times, and I am a “sucker” when it comes to a happy ending. It is my Cinderella complex!
You pay close attention to Anne de Bourgh in your book. Do you have a secret soft spot for her?
Jeffers: It has always been my belief that Lady Catherine controlled her daughter for non-altruistic reasons. We learn in the second part of Pride and Prejudice that Sir Lewis de Bourgh placed no entailment on his property at Rosings Park; therefore, Lady Catherine maintains control of the property and the neighborhood: ‘[d]elivering her opinion on every subject in so decisive a manner as proved that she was not used to having her judgment controverted.’
Poor Anne has been brought up with the knowledge that she is to marry her cousin Darcy. Lady Catherine has declared it to be so. Anne is never given a London Season and has no other suitors. She would be well ‘on the shelf’ by the time Darcy chooses to go against his aunt’s wishes and to marry Elizabeth Bennet instead. Keeping in mind that Darcy’s estate at Pemberley is much greater than Rosings Park, if Anne marries Darcy, she would not need Rosings, and Lady Catherine could remain as it mistress. His action leaves Darcy with the love of his life, but it dooms Anne to no future, and I imagined her jumping at the first chance at a relationship that might come along. However, Lady Catherine would not be so willing.
If Anne marries, Lady Catherine becomes the ‘Dowager’ and is relegated to a lesser role in the neighborhood, and Anne’s husband would inherit the property. Lady Catherine’s plan for Anne to become the mistress of Pemberley would be foiled, and Anne could define her own life. I could see Anne singing Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Miss Independent’ as she strolled through the halls of Rosings Park.
Besides, I needed a logical reason for Lady Catherine and Anne to be at Pemberley. Why not allow Anne to spread her wings and find love? It is probably my 60s and 70s feminist upbringing. I hate it when a woman subjugates herself to others: It is an easy role in which for women may find themselves.
What are you reading right now?
Jeffers: I once heard Ray Bradbury say in a video interview that he loved the smell of books, and I agree completely; I am an avid reader, reading daily to relax and also for research purposes. I recently reread Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth. The Starz eight-part series peaked my interest, and there were parts I could not remember from when I read the book years ago.
I have also been reading William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, which explores the twisted life of Logan Mountstuart. Through his diaries, Mountstuart, a very shallow man, experiences the major events of the 20th century. He was a student at Oxford in the 20s, a novelist, a journalist covering the Spanish Civil War, a spy during World War II, a prisoner of war, an art dealer, a teacher in Africa, and then a retiree in France. However, by the end of his life Logan has matured, and he becomes a man whose successes and failures often mimic our own.
Of course, there is always a stack of historical romances beside my bed: Mary Balogh, Sabrina Jeffries, Julia Quinn, Sophie Jordan, Nicole Jordan, Deborah Raleigh, etc. The list could go on forever.
As for Jane Austen, I am rereading Northanger Abbey as it is being highlighted at JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) this year. On my website, I have a feature entitled ‘On Regina’s Night Stand,’ where I talk about books I have been reading.
What is next for you?
Jeffers: Ulysses Press, for which I write, is taking a bit of a gamble in this volatile publishing market and is releasing one of my historical romances, The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, in late December or early January. If all goes well, this is designed to be a series. We have also discussed another mystery as a follow up to this one. We have an excellent relationship. I pitch my ideas, and Ulysses adds theirs. Then we decide what we will tackle next. Of course, several of my regular readers want a sequel to the vampire one, and it was left open for that possibility, as was Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion.
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