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A Christmas Return


A Christmas Return

A crackling fireplace. Fresh snow on the ground. Scents of fir, cinnamon and mistletoe. Old Man Winter blowing through leafless trees. Since relocating from New York to Florida, I no longer partake in those elements that make up the holiday season. However, for me, Christmas can be found in the recurring series from Anne Perry that has been a Yuletide companion for the past 14 years.

Perry has two highly successful series going, both set in Victorian England: the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt novels and the William Monk mysteries. Her Christmas stories are able to take some liberties from her regular characters while still retaining the expected social commentary and ethical edge to which her readers have become accustomed. They sometimes feature main characters like the Pitt or Monk families, while other installments may focus on tertiary characters not usually reserved for the spotlight or lead roles. The Christmas season itself occasionally plays a large part in some of these books, while in others the only thing particularly Christmas-like about them is that they are coincidently set around December 25th.

"A CHRISTMAS RETURN never pulls punches or lets up in intensity... Thank you, Ms. Perry, for another well-written reminder of what this time of year is really all about."

This year's entry, A CHRISTMAS RETURN, combines a little of the aforementioned storytelling elements. The main character is Mariah Ellison, Charlotte Pitt's grandmother, and she is called upon to take on an unexpected Christmas journey to help out an old friend and right a 20-year wrong. To kick things off, Perry dedicates this novel to “all who have the courage to keep on trying.” In this case, the reference clearly describes Mariah, whose persistence in doing the right thing drives the narrative.

Days before Christmas, Mariah receives a Christmas pudding in the mail that reminds her of a cannonball. This analogy is more than symbolic, as the reader will shortly learn. When Mariah reads the enclosed card, she notes that it was penned by Peter Wesley, the grandson of her oldest and dearest friend, Rowena. Peter is appealing to Mariah to come see his grandmother due to the fact that she is about to face a decidedly unpleasant situation. Rowena's husband, Cullen Wesley, was a respected defense attorney. He was set to defend a man named Owen Durward, accused of kidnapping, raping and killing a young girl. Just prior to the case, Cullen was murdered, bashed in the head by what appeared to be a cannonball. This occurred 20 years prior to the current storyline.

Peter's note hits home, and Mariah leaves her Christmas plans behind to travel to Surrey and help out her friend. Since Durward is back in town --- and set to marry a rich younger woman --- Peter is seeking to do whatever he can to both avenge his late grandfather and shield his grandmother from further shame. You see, not only is Durward the prime suspect in Cullen's death, he also spread untrue rumors about Rowena that has made many members of the town whisper that she might actually be the one complicit in her husband's death.

The way Mariah sees it, this is what Christmas is all about --- healing and forgiveness. With Rowena not well enough to travel, Peter and Mariah set out on a train journey to the small village of Brocklehurst. It was the last place Cullen visited prior to his murder. Whatever he learned while visiting Brocklehurst kept him from defending Durward and most likely was the cause of his murder. Prior to that, Mariah and Peter have a chilling confrontation with the accused himself. It is this passage that is the most tense and well-written in the story and represents Anne Perry at her finest.

Mariah reflects that Christmas is about hope and giving a hand where it's needed. The visit to Brocklehurst is more than eye-opening for Mariah and Peter, and the information they gather will drive things forward to the stunning Christmas Day confrontation between them, Rowena and Durward --- all taking place in front of the entire village.

A CHRISTMAS RETURN never pulls punches or lets up in intensity, even though it's set amidst the Christmas holiday. We are left with one final sentiment to remind us of the power of the Yuletide season --- because of Christmas, love never dies; neither does courage or hope. Thank you, Ms. Perry, for another well-written reminder of what this time of year is really all about.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on November 16, 2017

A Christmas Return
by Anne Perry