A Christmas Secret by Anne Perry
I chose this book in my local library, partly because it was short (!) and partly because I had never read anything by Anne Perry. I did not have particularly high hopes for the book, but I was pleasantly surprised. The central characters are Dominc Corde and his wife, Clarice. Dominic is chosen by the bishop to take over for an old vicar who has gone on an end-of-the-year vacation, just at Christmas-time. He is delighted to stand in as substitute vicar in the village of Cottisham while the Reverend Wynter is on holiday.
Glad to escape their dreary London flat and a Dominic’s job as church curate, the couple set off for what they hope will be a lovely winter getaway. When they arrive, in the midst of an exceptionally snowy season, Dominic and Clarice are welcomed by warm, hospitable neighbours. They are also enchanted by the pleasant, cosy vicarage. Nevetheless, Dominic is concerned at how he will be received by the congregation, who hold Reverend Wynter in high regard.
It is Clarice who discovers they have much more dire matters to worry about. It turns out that the Reverend Wynter is not on holiday at all. Something very sinister has transpired. There is a mystery to be solved and the couple determines to find the answer. A blizzard leaves Cottisham treacherously snowbound and the isolated village swirls with unsavoury secrets, Dominic and Clarice suddenly find themselves in deadly danger.
The author herself has had an interesting life. She was born in London, England, on 28 October 1958 when her name was Juliet Marion Hulme. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis as a child and spent some time in the Caribbean and South Africa in hopes that a warmer climate would improve her health. She rejoined her family when her father took a position as Rector of Canterbury University College, New Zealand. As a result of this, from the age of 13 the author attended Christchurch Girl’s High School. Then, in June 1954, at the age of 15, the author and her best friend Pauline Parker murdered Parker’s mother, Honorah Rieper. It seems Hulme’s parents were in the process of separating, and she was supposed to go to South Africa to stay with a relative. The two teenage girls, who had created a rich fantasy life together which was populated with famous actors such as James Mason and Orson Welles and they did not want to be separated.
As for this book, it is a very short novel or a very long short story. I finished it in one sitting and wore a jumper while I was reading, the descriptions of the winter landscape made me feel quite cold! This author shows lovely attention to details, an appreciation of homely virtues and the everyday chores that are necessary to the running of a house. She also displays the compassionate humanity of her characters. She excels at describing settings and interpersonal relationships. I really enjoyed this book and recommend it. I will look for other works by this author.