A Christmas Hope

Written by Anne Perry
Review by jay Dixon

Set in December 1868, Perry’s A Christmas Hope is the eleventh Christmas novella she has written. The heroine is Claudine Burroughs, a woman of a certain age, childless, and married to a cold man who only thinks of how he can advance his career of investment advisor. At a party given by one of his clients, a prostitute is murdered, and a wild Welsh poet, Dai Tregarron (based, one assumes, on Dylan Thomas) is blamed. But Claudine has doubts.

As she starts to question the witnesses, and her Society acquaintances who were at the party, her doubts become a certainty. Dai is not guilty. Going against her husband’s wishes, and fighting his threat to stop her helping at Hester Monk’s clinic for poor women, she picks her way through the evidence and Society’s mores to finally discover what really happened.

I have one slight niggle. References are made to Claudine having been saved by Squeaky Robinson in the past, but how this happened is never explained. Readers who have not read Execution Dock are therefore left in ignorance and irritated.

Perry has a bleak view of Victorian life, and there is a melancholy undercurrent throughout the novella. Sometimes it is quite dark: virtue costs, she says, and guilt is with you forever. Claudine offsets this by telling her husband that ‘Christmas is about the good news of hope for all people…’ and in the end justice prevails. But I am not sure that the message of hope is strong enough to overcome the prevailing atmosphere of despondency, despite the title.