Drawing on characters from her books about London policeman, Thomas Pitt, author Anne Perry presents a Christmas story. This is her 15th book in the Christmas series, an annual mix of Victorian intrigue and seasonal pleasures. For the readers on your gift list, especially the mystery and historical fiction fans, it is hard to beat Perry’s topics and storytelling skills.
This novel resonates especially well because it deals with the fact that during the Victorian era, husbands had absolute control over their wives’ lives. Recent modern headlines about influential men abusing women indicate that some attitudes have not changed all that much. However, Perry successfully blends her distaste for the subjugation of women with hints of how women can change their situation if they are determined to do so.
It is the Christmas season, and the grandson of a former friend writes to Mariah Ellison to say that a 20-year-old scandal is about to resurface. Mariah is grandmother to Charlotte Pitt, a policeman’s wife. That fact gives Mariah some insight in how to investigate a murder—even one that happened so long ago. So she travels to the rural community where the scandal played out.
Her friend does not welcome assistance because reversing the scandal will mean embarrassment and humiliation that she cannot bear. In order to help Rowena, Mariah must try to deal with her own history. She has kept a secret about her husband that would focus the public gossip on herself. Rowena’s grandson stands by to help resolve matters.
This is a short book, and author Perry faced tough going to lay out the story’s problems and its resolution in relatively few pages. However, she succeeds in setting the Victorian atmosphere, the Christmas season and the 20-year-old time frame with reasonable success.
With determination, Mariah talks to key female residents of the community and convinces them to tell their stories. She is able to show a link between the deaths of two young girls and this breaks the dam of silence. She reveals her own story as well, and the man responsible for abuse and murder tries to run away. Perry gives readers vivid pictures of the victims’ thought processes as they struggle to face the past and now the public revelations.
Tea and holiday refreshments find their way into Mariah’s search for clues to the old murder. Questions are answered at a community gathering on Christmas Eve. Both Rowena and Mariah reveal their secrets in public and accept the fact that the truth is welcome. They become stronger for it. Like their modern counterparts, these women gain strength when at last they point fingers at their abusers and realize that there is real safety in the truth.
If I used a scale, I would rate this book three stars out of five. It is a pleasant getaway from Christmas shopping and baking.
Bernice Owen is a retired librarian and resides in Rohnert Park.