During the hectic Christmas season, it is revitalizing to take a break from the frenzied pace, and escape to the fictional world. Anne Perry’s Christmas mysteries are made to order (click here for a complete list of the novels and their plot summaries). Shorter than the novels in her historical mystery series, these novellas can be read in an evening or two. They have both suspense and charm.
A Christmas Secret, Perry’s fourth Yuletide novella, transports us away from the fast-paced modern world to a quaint Victorian village. The new curate and his wife, Dominic and Clarice Corde, have been asked to leave their post in an industrial section of London and travel to Cottisham to fill in for a vacationing vicar. Although they are surprised at the suddenness of the vicar’s departure, they are delighted at the prospect of three weeks in a country village during the Christmas season, and are only too happy to temporarily escape from both their bleak surroundings and the disagreeable Reverend Spindlewood.
The book begins as a pastoral idyll, beguiling us with the simplicity of a leisurely lifestyle. Despite the snow and winter weather, life in the old-fashioned village of Cottisham appears idyllic. The curate’s wife is pleased with the rambling stone vicarage: “The house was everything she could have hoped. It had charm and individuality” (11).
But unexplained events start to occur and a body is found. Once the mystery deepens, the curate and his wife adopt the role of amateur detectives. Although A Christmas Secret is lighter and less ambitious than Perry’s other series novels, it is a delightful tale for the holiday season.
As in all Perry’s historical mysteries (see my post on Paragon Walk), day-to-day life in Victorian England is faithfully represented in A Christmas Secret. As Holland-Toll observes:
Perry takes great care to not only provide details of dress and society more commonly found in a novel of manners but also grounds each novel in everyday life. Her novels faithfully reflect the social minutiae of calling, of leaving a card, of the length of afternoon visits, the strategies involved in the precise timing of those visits, the allowable topics, length of stay, and gradation of refreshments offered. (2000, 267)In keeping with the Christmas setting, the themes of forgiveness and redemption pervade the story, uniting its various elements. Mystery enthusiasts can look forward to a tale that combines seasonal themes, suspense, and pastoral enchantment.
Holland-Toll, Linda J. “Anne Perry: Victorian ’Istorian and Murdermonger.” In The Detective as Historian: History and Art in Historical Crime Fiction, edited by Ray B. Browne and Lawrence A. Kreiser, Jr., 265-82. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 2000.
Perry, Anne. A Christmas Secret. New York: Ballantine, 2006.