Anne Perry, well known and loved as a mystery writer, has given
readers a wonderful holiday tonic with A CHRISTMAS SECRET. In her
new book, she brings back two secondary characters from her Thomas
and Charlotte Pitt novels, and gives them their own story. The
Reverend Dominic Corde and his wife Clarice appeared earlier in THE
CATER STREET HANGMAN and BRUNSWICK GARDENS. Even if you have never
met them before, you will still love them --- and their
Dominic and Clarice, who have been married for little more than a
year, are traveling to Oxfordshire. Dominic has been asked by the
bishop to take over for the elderly vicar, Reverend Wynter, who has
gone on a holiday. He and his wife leave the industrial landscape
of London and Dominic's current job as curate for a three-week
reprieve. The train travels through gentle rolling country sides
and past hilltops dusted with snow and delivers them at the
station, where a pony trap waits to take them to the hamlet of
The village is picturesque with thatched dwellings and a wide green
with a duck pond. The church is Saxon with a slate roof and a
square tower that rises against the winter sky. Readers feel as if
they are in a late 19th century setting trimmed with snow. The
stone vicarage has a feeling of warmth even though Mrs.
Wellbeloved, who has looked after the vicar for years, greets them
with a dubious look. She shows them the house and informs Dominic
and Clarice about the dog and cat to tend as well.
Soon after the couple makes themselves at home, they receive their
first caller. Sir Peter Connaught is the local squire; he welcomes
them and is relieved to learn that the couple had not met the Rev.
Wynter. When Mrs. Wellbeloved comes to help later, she tells
Clarice that Sir Peter and the vicar quarreled. Clarice hears what
high esteem villagers have for Rev. Wynter and how much he deserved
a holiday to paint, a hobby he loves.
Dominic calls on Mrs. Wellbeloved to ask her advice about whom he
should visit, and she tells him to be sure to call on the vicar's
former right-hand man, John Boscombe. When Boscombe has the same
reaction as Sir Peter when Dominic discloses that he had not met
the elderly vicar, Dominic is curious. John will not speak of why
he is no longer with the vicar, but he does provide helpful
information to Dominic about the history of the village and its
people. Dominic and Clarice share their experiences of the village
with each other. Dominic hopes to give a good sermon, help those in
need and be received with grace during the Christmas season.
Clarice wishes they could stay longer.
As she settles into the vicarage, Clarice discovers Rev. Wynter's
winter clothes and his paints and brushes. One morning, Clarice
awakens to find the world white with snow. Knowing that Dominic
will need to be up and out to call on villagers in need, she takes
the coal bucket and heads to the cellar --- with the cat and the
dog not far behind. When Clarice soon realizes that the pets have
wandered off, she sets out to look for them. Her search leads her
to a second cellar where she discovers the Rev. Wynter's body.
There are wounds that are hard to explain as a heart attack or
fall, so Clarice suspects murder. Dr. Fitzpatrick, who comes to
examine the body, is skeptical, but Clarice and Dominic investigate
the murder anyway by talking with the parishioners.
As their investigation unfolds, secrets that are harbored by some
of the villagers endanger the lives of Dominic and Clarice.
Eventually, the murderer is uncovered. Dominic delivers a sermon on
Christmas Day attended by everyone in Cottisham that speaks of
hope, even though mistakes have been made. Dominic declares, "That
is what Christmas is: everlasting hope, a way forward to the best
in ourselves and all that we can become."
There is nothing better than having one of your favorite writers
pen a story that includes the holidays as a setting. As this year
draws to a close, put up your feet, get your favorite drink and
holiday treat, and starting reading. A CHRISTMAS SECRET will create
a spirit of the season that lasts long after you have finished and
will leave you with a heartfelt message for your own holiday
Reviewed by Jennifer McCord on December 27, 2010