Thursday, February 29, 2024

Anne Perry explores dark secrets in small-town Dorset in her newest Victorian-era novella

Over several standalone outings, Mariah Ellison, the formidable Grandmama of Charlotte Pitt from Perry’s long-running mystery series, has proved to have her own bona fides for detection. This latest holiday novella, set at the end of the Victorian era, sees Mariah arriving at St. Helens, a small Dorset village, after accepting her old friend Sadie Alsop’s invitation to stay with her over Christmas.

Mariah senses that Sadie is in trouble and needs her help, and her inner alarm is heightened when she arrives on Sadie’s doorstep and is rudely turned away by her husband, Barton. Clearly not expecting her, Barton tells her Sadie has left, and he doesn’t know if she’s ever coming back. Baffled and eventually settling in at the cozy home of Gwendolyn, a kindly older woman who never married, Mariah grows concerned about Sadie’s whereabouts (did she leave willingly, or was she abducted?), a feeling that intensifies after days pass with no answers.

Gwendolyn and a caring bookshop owner join Mariah’s unofficial investigation, which uncovers a web of malice that has overtaken St. Helens and threatens to dredge up painful secrets. As Mariah works out who’s responsible, she reflects on the fact that “everyone has a hidden side.”

Characterization is top notch, and the interactions among the diverse villagers reflect Victorian society. As Christmas mysteries go, this story turns darker than most as it delves into human nature’s most sinister aspects. At the same time, the ending grants a feeling of hope, both for the village and Mariah herself. Her abusive marriage had turned her spiteful and bitter, but she’s come to recognize these destructive patterns and consciously works to express unfamiliar emotions like gratitude and compassion.

A Christmas Vanishing was published by Ballantine in November 2023, and I reviewed it for February's Historical Novels Review.  The UK publisher is Headline.  

You may ask... it's 2024 already, so why review this book now?  Well, I hadn't gotten to read it myself until after the holidays, and Christmas doesn't play a big part in the plot other than its timing. This isn't exactly a warm and cozy read, but it's in keeping with Perry's perennial themes of justice and the complexity of human nature. It also may be Perry's final book, as she passed away in April last year.


  1. Complexity of human nature got me. I’ll be looking out for this.

  2. Katharine O5:12 AM

    When we read one of Perry's books in our book club we were all unaware of her...interesting... past. We try to include an author bio in our discussions and that tidbit caused quite a stir. But her books are very good, the Christmas ones alone would make a great collection.

    1. Perry was a keynote speaker at a conference I attended once, and her background, once it was known, caused a stir there too. She was an impressive speaker, talking for half an hour without any notes, either.
      I hadn't realized there were 22 of the Christmas ones until I just looked! I've only read three or four.

    2. I've been reading her Christmas books every year since the first one was published. I will miss them!

    3. I'm still amazed she was able to write one each year along with new books in her existing series.