A Christmas Escape
Perry’s thirteenth holiday novella takes a sojourn from her familiar realm of Victorian England over to the small Italian island of Stromboli, in the Tyrrhenian Sea. The steep mountainous landscape is picturesque and the weather temperate, even in early December, and Charles Latterly aims to spend a few weeks pulling his thoughts together after his wife’s recent death. However, despite the beautiful locale and the scrumptious meals prepared by the hostelry’s owner, his stay is extremely volatile. First, most of the other guests – a vibrant teenager and her great-uncle, a grumpy man and his troubled wife, the colonel who tries to save her from potential abuse, and a famous novelist – knew each other from back home and don’t all get along. Also, the volcano sitting atop the village shows signs of reawakening.
There’s a lot of suspense and character development packed into this relatively short work. After one of the guests is found dead – a murder disguised as an accident – Charles realizes the suspect pool is very limited and seeks to find a motive. His growing fatherly rapport with the young woman, Candace Finbar, brings out a new side to his nature. Between knowing that a murderer is nearby and the danger posed by falling lava bombs, the atmosphere is incredibly tense. The notion of a “Christmas escape” turns out to have an unexpected double meaning. Charles, of course, is the brother of Hester (Latterly) Monk, heroine of Perry’s Monk detective series. Charles has a recurrent secondary role in those novels, and is such an intriguing character here that he deserves the chance to take the lead once again.