Book reviews: A Christmas Escape by Anne Perry

Like a glass of mulled wine and a warm mince pie, Anne Perry’s clever, thoughtful Victorian novellas have become an essential ingredient of the festive season.

A Christmas Escape byAnne Perry
A Christmas Escape byAnne Perry

Imbued with the seasonal spirit of love, giving and goodwill, these absorbing murder mystery morality tales speak powerfully of human frailty, social evils and our gift for eternal optimism.

Perry’s life-affirming, atmospheric stories focus on characters linked to her two best-selling crime series featuring Thomas Pitt and William Monk, and this year we meet Charles Latterly, Hester Monk’s recently widowed brother, who travels to Italy to spend Christmas on the volcanic island of Stromboli, just north of Sicily.

Despite a childless marriage which had always been ‘adequate’ rather than happy, Charles has felt an acute sense of loss since the death of his wife. With his life seeming increasingly meaningless, he has travelled to Stromboli for a Christmas break from reality.

In his secluded inn near the island’s famous ‘rattling’ and very active volcano, a curious group of fellow travellers has gathered, and Charles senses a brittle strain between some of the guests.

While the visitors prepare for Christmas, Charles strikes up an unexpected and unusual friendship with orphaned Candace Finbar, an outspoken and intelligent girl with a maturity far beyond her 14 years.

To Candace, the ‘uneasy’ volcano is an entity that deserves respect from all but when the rumblings grow louder and it threatens to erupt, the group members realise they must leave at once. As they plan their escape, and with Charles thrust reluctantly into the role of leading the group to shelter, one of them is found dead. And the awful truth is that if this is murder,

there is a killer in their midst. Can Charles navigate a path to safety and keep the innocent from harm?

This is Perry’s 13th Christmas crime novella and its 150 pages pack in a two-hour feast of history, mystery and suspense with her trademark style, warmth and wisdom.

Love, loss, betrayal, new beginnings and new possibilities all play their part in a fast-moving, well-plotted story that seamlessly blends action and drama with high emotion and moments of startling insight.

Beautifully written and irresistibly entertaining, this is the perfect stocking filler for discerning crime fans.

(Headline, hardback, £16.99)