A Christmas Vanishing: A Novel (Anne Perry’s Christmas)

Written by Anne Perry
Review by Sarah Johnson

Over several standalone outings, Mariah Ellison, the formidable Grandmama of Charlotte Pitt from Perry’s long-running mystery series, has proved to have her own bona fides for detection. This latest holiday novella, set at the end of the Victorian era, sees Mariah arriving at St. Helens, a small Dorset village, after accepting her old friend Sadie Alsop’s invitation to stay with her over Christmas.

Mariah senses that Sadie is in trouble and needs her help, and her inner alarm is heightened when she arrives on Sadie’s doorstep and is rudely turned away by her husband, Barton. Clearly not expecting her, Barton tells her Sadie has left, and he doesn’t know if she’s ever coming back. Baffled and eventually settling in at the cozy home of Gwendolyn, a kindly older woman who never married, Mariah grows concerned about Sadie’s whereabouts (did she leave willingly, or was she abducted?), a feeling that intensifies after days pass with no answers. Gwendolyn and a caring bookshop owner join Mariah’s unofficial investigation, which uncovers a web of malice that has overtaken St. Helens and threatens to dredge up painful secrets. As Mariah works out who’s responsible, she reflects on the fact that “everyone has a hidden side.”

Characterization is top notch, and the interactions among the diverse villagers reflect Victorian society. As Christmas mysteries go, this story turns darker than most as it delves into human nature’s most sinister aspects. At the same time, the ending grants a feeling of hope, both for the village and Mariah herself. Her abusive marriage had turned her spiteful and bitter, but she’s come to recognize these destructive patterns and consciously works to express unfamiliar emotions like gratitude and compassion.