Anne Perry’s A CHRISTMAS VISITOR is told primarily from the perspective of Henry Rathbone, a well-known mathematician and inventor in Victorian England. Aficionados of Perry’s work will be quite familiar with Rathbone from his appearances in her William Monk novels, though an intimate or even passing acquaintance with him is not necessary to enjoy this book.
The story opens with the distinguished Dreghorn family gathering from the four corners of the world to the family estate in the Lake District of England. The purpose of the reunion is a Christmas celebration, which is preempted by the apparent accidental death of Judge Judah Dreghorn. Judah’s widow, Antonia, summons Rathbone, her godfather, for emotional support. As the family gathers, however, it becomes obvious to them, and to Rathbone, that Judah’s death was the result of a deliberate act against him. It appears to be linked to a judicial decision he made over a decade before, which resulted in the incarceration of a man named Ashton Gower for forgery. Gower, having served his sentence, maintains that he was unjustly imprisoned by Judah and that Judah knew of Gower’s innocence at the time of the trial. All of the evidence appears to point to Gower as the murderer. Rathbone begins an investigation, and what he uncovers puts him and the Dreghorn family upon the horns of a dilemma.
Perry’s plotting here is nothing less than amazing; she paints a relatively simple picture in which the right course of resolution is ultimately quite clear yet extremely difficult for those involved to execute. The result is a quietly effective morality tale that is unforgettable.
A CHRISTMAS VISITOR is a story not to be missed. Just under 200 pages, it easily can be read in one sitting, a practice that you’ll undoubtedly want to incorporate into your annual holiday schedule. Very highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 27, 2010