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by Anne Perry
Ballantine, November 2016
176 pages
ISBN: 1101886382

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this latest Perry Christmas novella, set in 1900, Lord Victor Narraway, former head of Special Branch (and Thomas Pitt's old boss), has planned to take his wife, Vespasia, on a Christmas journey to Jerusalem. But in Jaffa they have dinner at their hotel restaurant with a stranger, an astronomer who seems to be watched by a shadowy figure.

The next night, they stop by the man's room, only to find him murdered. After summoning police and retiring to their room, Victor finds a note and piece of parchment in his suit jacket pocket, slipped in by the stranger. The note asks them to take the parchment to the House of Bread on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem—on Christmas Eve.

What should have been an easy train journey from Jaffa to Jerusalem becomes fraught with peril for the Narraways, but they also find an ally—an enigmatic man on the train who joins their journey. The parchment, written in Arabic, is unintelligible to them, but the Narraways feel they must fulfill their promise to the stranger, even at the risk of their lives. The message, when finally read, is a powerful one. But, as the Narraways find, it was the journey itself, not the destination or final message, that has changed them.

This is Perry's 14th Christmas novella, and it may be more religious than her other ones. Much of it is symbolic, rather than a strong mystery story. There's much talk about following one's star (as the three wise men did to find Christ). In fact, you'll find no sleuthing and little mystery, but a story steeped in spiritual reflection. The Narraways' journey is one of faith and self-discovery. It's a good message for the holidays, but the reader should be forewarned they are not getting Perry's usual Victorian mystery.

§ Lourdes Venard is an independent editor who divides her time between New York and Maui.

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, December 2016

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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