Sunday, December 13, 2009

Book Review - A child shall lead them to solve a harsh mystery (Anne Perry)

From Winston-Salem Journal --

Book Review - A child shall lead them to solve a harsh mystery --

By Linda Brinson –
Published: December 6, 2009 --

A CHRISTMAS PROMISE. By Anne Perry. Ballantine. 193 pages. $18.

When Anne Perry writes her Christmas novels, it's almost as if Charles Dickens has come back from the grave to treat readers to another heartwarming holiday story.

Perry, in her two series featuring investigators William Monk and Thomas Pitt, has long been a master at bringing the world of Victorian England back to life. She puts that knowledge and skill to good use in her Christmas tales, each tied up neatly like a choice package under the tree.

A Christmas Promise, the seventh of Perry's Christmas novels, depicts the squalor, poverty and crime that readers of Dickens and Perry know are often just around the corner from the well-lighted, comfortable, fashionable streets of London.

And it also shows us the courage, spirit and loyalty that can help even children triumph over hardship.

Gracie Phipps, 13, has grown up knowing hard work, cold, hunger and hard times. She also has a keen sense of right and wrong, and she can't turn away when she sees a tearful 8-year-old Minnie Maude Mudway alone on the streets. Minnie Maude, Gracie soon learns, is determined to find Charlie, her Uncle Alf's missing donkey.
Uncle Alf, a rag-and-bone man who made his living picking up what others discard, has been murdered, and his cart and Charlie are missing. It's winter, almost Christmas, and Minnie Maude is worried that Charlie is cold, hungry and lost.

Gracie has no idea what she's getting into when she promises to help Minnie Maude find Charlie. The more they look for Charlie, the more questions they ask, the more the two girls begin to realize that their quest might endanger them. The day he died, Uncle Alf had taken on another rag-and-bone man's route, and along the way he had picked up a mysterious, beautiful golden box. The box, now missing, may hold the clue to Uncle Alf's death.

The girls' search for Charlie takes them to the exotic shop of a wise man named Mr. Balthasar, who advises them to stop searching for the box. They promise to go home and stay put, and he promises to make inquiries about the donkey.

But Minnie Maude is determined, and Gracie soon finds to her horror that the little girl also has disappeared. There's nothing to be done but beg Mr. Balthasar for help, even though the girls disregarded his warnings.

Perry makes the dangerous, often depressing streets of London very real. The girls touch your heart as they cling to strong values despite their harsh lives. They also cling to dreams and aspirations, especially their desire to learn to read and write someday, so they won't have to work so hard to memorize things they want to remember.

Readers will expect a Christmas novel to have a satisfying, uplifting ending. They won't be disappointed on that score, but they may well be surprised at just how things play out. Read Anne Perry's latest, and your spirits will be lifted. That's a promise.

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