Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Christmas Odyssey by Anne Perry

   Back in the late 1990s, I read my way through all of Anne Perry's mystery novels about policeman Thomas Pitt and his wife Charlotte, a woman from the upper class. All of these books take place in the later years of the Victorian Age. A second series, about detective William Monk, is set about twenty years earlier. For the most part the books were traditional whodunits, though they had a pretty hard edge, especially when it came to the details of the murders. These definitely were not 'cozy' mysteries.
   By the time 2003 rolled around, when Perry wrote her first short Christmas novel, A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY, I had wandered away from reading traditional mysteries. I noted the little books, usually about 200 pages and smaller in height and width than the average hardback, and figured I'd try one at some point. I'm still something of an anglophile and I enjoy historical fiction.
   I tried 2007's A CHRISTMAS PROMISE more or less on a whim and enjoyed it. I started another one (can't remember the title) but it didn't hold my attention, and I bought 2010's A CHRISTMAS ODYSSEY, stuck it on a shelf and forgot about it. When you have as many books as I do, that happens. Ran across it the other day when I was looking for something else and set it aside for Christmas reading. I decided today, a little more than a week away from Christmas, was the time to give it a shot. Really glad that I did. Made for a great afternoon of Holiday reading.
   This one is pretty dark for a Christmas book, I have to say. Elderly and ailing, the wealthy James Wentworth asks a favor of his old friend, Henry Rathbone. It seems that Wentworth's son Lucien has fallen in with bad company and has vanished into the dangerous warrens of London's West End, and Wentworth wants Rathbone to try and find the young man. Rathbone is a gentleman and has no knowledge of the streets and slums so he goes to the clinic where William Monk's wife, Hester tends to the needs of the poor. There he meets 'Squeaky' Robinson, a reformed Pimp who now works as the book keeper for the clinic. (The Christmas books tend to feature secondary characters from Perry's series as protagonists.)
   Robinson knows his way around the West End and he agrees to help Rathbone in his search. With Robinson as guide, Rathbone will descend into a sort of Dante's Inferno in the backstreets, alleys, and tunnels where every sexual taste can be found and danger and death lurk around every corner. The two men are aided in their search by an unlicensed doctor named Crow, and a 15 year old street urchin named Bessie.
   This book is definitely more suspense than mystery, though there are some very clever bits of misdirection. I didn't catch one of them which makes a long time mystery reader like me happy. Perry's knowledge of the time period is amazing and her descriptions of the time, place, and people are well drawn without being too detailed. You'll feel the cold in the air, heard the ringing of the horse's harnesses, and smell the noisome odors of the disreputable pubs and filthy alleys.
   There is, though, a good bit of Christmas spirit in the book, and you'll definitely get the feeling of a Dickens era Christmas. I thoroughly enjoyed A CHRISTMAS ODYSSEY and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a satisfying and suspenseful Christmas read.

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