Friday, November 24, 2017

A Christmas Return by Anne Perry, a holiday mystery novella set in Victorian times

This compact little gem, Perry’s fifteenth Christmas novella, demonstrates her proficiency in writing Victorian-set mysteries. The protagonist is Mariah Ellison, grandmother of Charlotte Pitt from another of Perry’s series.

One day in mid-December, Mariah receives an unusually heavy Christmas pudding at her London residence. Cutting into it, she discovers an ornamental cannonball—a gift that signals events from her past. The sender is Peter Wesley, grandson of her estranged friend Rowena, and he desperately needs Mariah’s help.

Twenty years earlier, in the village of Haslemere in Surrey, Rowena’s lawyer husband, Cullen, had suddenly refused to continue defending his client. Dr. Owen Durward had been accused of raping and murdering a teenage girl, and nobody knew the reasons behind Cullen’s change of heart. Then that same night, Cullen himself was killed, and Durward was subsequently acquitted.

Now Durward has returned to Haslemere again, wanting to dispel any lingering sentiments about his guilt. This dredges up immense pain for the Wesleys, since he’s spreading rumors that Rowena was the cause of his past troubles. Rowena isn’t the fighting sort, so Mariah and Peter decide to take action.

A plain woman in her eighties, Mariah has a reputation of being sharp-tongued and tetchy. In one of many skillful unveilings of human nature’s many facets, the story delves into the origins of her bitterness—and the courage she must exhibit to overcome it.

The atmosphere of close-knit village life in the 1890s feels pitch-perfect, from the homeliness of residents’ holiday decor to the gossip that spreads like a dreadful stain. The characterization is superb, and the work’s short length is perfect for the material. The spirit of the Christmas season is cleverly evoked through the underlying theme that it’s never too late for reconciliations and second chances.

Anne Perry's A Christmas Return was published by Ballantine this month (hardcover, 177pp). In the UK, the publisher is Headline. I reviewed it for November's Historical Novels Review.  This is my second experience with one of her Christmas novellas, the first being A Christmas Escape from 2015. You don't have to have read the Thomas & Charlotte Pitt novels to enjoy this one.

Want to win a copy for yourself? I have an extra, which I'll be giving away to an interested blog reader. Just enter your info in the form below by Friday, December 1st, and I'll draw a random entry after that.  This giveaway is open internationally.  One entry per household, please; void where prohibited.  Good luck!

Update, 12/2:17: Giveaway entries are closed, and a winner has been selected via Congrats to Michael C!  I've sent you an email and hope you'll enjoy the book.
Thanks to all who entered!


  1. I didn't even know she wrote these Christmas novellas. Our book group just read her first William Monk, "The Face of a Stranger," and during our discussions were amazed to learn of her early history. I'll have to track down some of these novellas - thanks for the post!

    1. Her early history is shocking - I read the first few books of the Monk series before knowing about it. I ought to get back to that series at some point (I read the first four in succession and decided to take a break and read something else). Fortunately, all of the novellas make sense without having read the main series. Hope you enjoy them!