Claudia Gray (Defy the Stars) returns to Regency England in her delightful second Austen-centric mystery, The Late Mrs. Willoughby. Juliet Tilney (whom readers met in The Murder of Mr. Wickham) is thrilled to be visiting Colonel and Marianne Brandon (née Dashwood) in Devonshire. Jonathan Darcy is less thrilled to be visiting Mr. Willoughby, who bullied him constantly when they were schoolmates. When someone poisons (quite dramatically) Willoughby's wife, Sophia, at a dinner party, Jonathan and Juliet join forces to find the killer. What follows is a highly entertaining account of their attempts to investigate discreetly, plus a dawning realization on both sides of their feelings for one another.
Gray tells her story in alternating perspectives, letting readers see the story through both Juliet's and Jonathan's eyes. Though she's the daughter of the imaginative Catherine Morland, Juliet is sensible and sharp-witted. Jonathan, though he struggles with social niceties, is also a shrewd observer of those around him. Gray's mystery plot is enjoyably studded with references to familiar Austen characters, and others, including the Dashwood women and the Ferrars family, feature more prominently. Colonel Brandon's ward, Miss Williams, also receives her turn in the spotlight. A cast of engaging characters, a series of incidents seemingly targeting Willoughby himself, and several red herrings contribute to a satisfying solution. Gray leaves plenty of possibilities open for her characters' budding romance--and leaves readers hoping for more in the series. Fans of Austen will thoroughly enjoy the ways in which Gray expands on the original novels in this second adventure. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams