Christmas is traditionally a time of hope and heart and there is plenty of both on offer in Anne Perry’s small but beautifully formed winter warmer.
Perry’s atmospheric Victorian crime mysteries, which always come seasoned with a sprinkling of romance and a large helping of goodwill to all men, are the perfect apéritif for the Christmas celebrations.
This life-affirming series of novellas are two-hour feasts of murder, mystery and morality… all served up in the true spirit of Christmas.
The stories focus on minor characters from Perry’s two best-selling Victorian crime series featuring Thomas Pitt and William Monk, and here we make closer acquaintance with well-heeled but unhappy Claudine Burroughs who hitherto has ploughed an even furrow alongside Hester Monk.
And it’s a tale of rich and poor, tolerance and intolerance, courage, determination, faith and the importance of fighting for the truth.
As December 1868 dawns in London, Claudine is struggling to find any Christmas cheer and not just because of the unseasonably mild and flat weather.
Her life with Wallace, her unimaginative, humourless and staid husband, is constrained and unrewarding, and the coming season will be a joyless, endless round of social calls and extravagant events.
The only ray of light for Claudine is her voluntary work at her friend Hester Monk’s clinic for sick or injured prostitutes. She loves it for the fellowship, the variety and the sense that she is doing something of genuine worth.
At a glittering party in a magnificent London mansion, Claudine meets the wild, charismatic Welsh poet Dai Tregarron whose love of whisky and women have given him a reputation as ‘something of a blasphemer’ in social circles.
And when prostitute Winnie Briggs, who has been smuggled into the party by an unknown guest, is found brutally beaten on the terrace, Tregarron quickly becomes the prime suspect.
Before fleeing the scene, he insists he was only trying to protect the woman from the violence of three aristocratic young men and Claudine, who is struck by the man’s straightforwardness, believes him.
With the help of the Monks’ bad boy turned bookkeeper Squeaky Robinson, Claudine defies her husband to seek out the truth but as society closes ranks against Tregarron, how can she prove his innocence without risking everything?
Once again Perry plumbs the dark underside of both the higher and lower echelons of Victorian society to bring us a Christmas cracker full of rich storytelling, classic conundrums, timeless life lessons and the gift of forgiveness.
A delightful prelude to Christmas…
(Headline, hardback, £16.99)