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A Christmas Gathering


A Christmas Gathering

It is hard to believe that the Yuletide tradition of enjoying an Anne Perry Christmas-inspired novel is now in its 17th consecutive year. You don’t need to be a regular reader of her various mystery series to enjoy these Christmas treats, but it sure would help. Perry often features secondary or even obscure characters who have appeared in her books as the central figures of her holiday offerings. A CHRISTMAS GATHERING marks the return of Victor Narraway, the former head of London's Special Branch, and his beautiful wife, Vespasia. You may recognize them from the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt novels.

Perry includes this dedication prior to the start of the story: “To all who aspire to give mercy, and to receive it.” Once you’ve turned the last page, you will fully realize and appreciate its importance.

While Victor and Vespasia's previous Christmas in Jerusalem had been unforgettable and life-changing, they opt this year for a quieter celebration at home. However, those plans change when they accept an invitation to the opulent Cavendish residence to enjoy a few days of holiday cheer. The forecast may not call for a white Christmas, but there is a chill in the air with the possibility of light snowfall. This would make things festive and provide a more seasonal coverage to the Cavendish backyard, which includes well-manicured trees, a lovely garden and an orangery for their guests to explore.

"A CHRISTMAS GATHERING is Anne Perry’s most suspenseful holiday mystery to date... [S]he may have given her readers the best Yuletide gift yet."

However, Victor is attending this small gathering for higher reasons. The purpose of Special Branch is not just defense of homeland but also to prevent potential disasters from happening --- and to do it in a manner so that no one would know there had ever been a threat. Victor must take into his possession a set of submarine blueprints, discreetly doctored, that are to be passed through one of Special Branch’s usual networks in the hopes that it will be taken as genuine. This will allow them to identify a traitor who has been passing secrets to Germany. Which guest will give Victor the blueprints?

Victor has put additional stress on his shoulders with this current mission. He is seeking to right a personal wrong he committed under similar circumstances 20 years ago. Regrettably for Victor, his error led to the death of a young woman named Edith. He wants to make sure that no such mistake occurs this time. Vespasia is aware that her husband has some serious business to take care of; she just does not realize how serious it is.

As expected, Victor is approached in the backyard by a woman he was introduced to as Iris --- part of the youngest couple attending the party. She gets the intended package to him, but there is someone else outside who begins firing at him. Victor gets out of harm’s way, but the shooter takes down Iris with what appears to be a sharp blow to the head that causes a good deal of bleeding. She is brought back to the house unconscious, and there is no way of knowing if she is going to survive the assault.

Vespasia takes things in stride, all the while wondering what the much younger Iris had to do with her husband. Victor confesses to her about the guilt he still carries from that mission two decades ago, and why he must go above and beyond not only to fulfill the current mission but to ensure that Iris survives. Vespasia does whatever she can to oversee the ailing young lady and provide comfort to her husband, James. Meanwhile, both Victor and Vespasia are aware that one or more of the remaining guests --- or even the hosts themselves --- are working with the traitor and will do anything to get their hands on the blueprints that Victor has hidden in his wife's undergarment drawer.

A CHRISTMAS GATHERING is Anne Perry’s most suspenseful holiday mystery to date. Vespasia puts it best when she states: “Christmas is about accepting that we all make mistakes, for which we will be forgiven, but first we must forgive others. And then when the knot slips undone and lets go, we can forgive ourselves as well.” For me, the Christmas season would not be official without this annual tale from Perry, and she may have given her readers the best Yuletide gift yet.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on November 27, 2019

A Christmas Gathering
by Anne Perry