Friday, December 17, 2010


There are at least two kinds of Christmas mystery stories.

One is the story where Christmas is the setting. These stories are filled with more than murder.  They are filled with candy canes, Christmas cookies, Santa Claus,and even,  sometimes, with the hymns of Christmas.

The second kind of Christmas mystery story is the story which embodies something of the meaning of the season. 

Anne Perry's novella A Christmas Promise is the second kind.

A Christmas Promise is both symbolic and real. Two Victorian children, Gracie and Minnie Maude, set out to find Minnie Maude's donkey Charlie.

Charlie was lost when someone killed Minnie Maud's uncle Alf, the rag picker. 

Both children are among London's poor. Without the help of a man neither of them knows at the beginning of the story, Mr.Balthasar, they could not possibly succeed. 

And even though he helps, the children still become enmeshed in London's underworld of drugs and prostitution.

They also come to learn the meaning of Christmas. They act with loyalty and love, and finally, they bring a special gift to Jesus.

This hardly sounds like a mystery story except that it so faithfully portrays London's slums. These two girls, one eight and one thirteen, move through a world of pain, killing, and addiction.  Yet, for them, Christmas still breaks through.

In most ways, their lives aren't changed. When Christmas is over they will still return to the poverty of their homes. They will still live in a world where, in just a little while, they'll be forced to work eighteen hours a day in brutal factories making clothes and trinkets for the rich.

But this is Christmas.  And in this story, Christmas still shines through. 

This novella is a successful mix of the fanciful and the real, the world and the spirit. 

The story stands on its own merits and yet transcends the ordinary mystery. 

This is a Victorian story, not just in its setting, but also in its tone.  It is a very much in the spirit of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

This book is short, only 86 pages.  It is beautifully written as have been all the Anne Perry books I've read. 

For me, this was the perfect mystery story to read this Christmas season.

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