Just when you think you’ve bottomed out on genre books, Anne Perry’s A Christmas Odyssey comes along and stuns you. There is a raft of these bestselling Christmas books and the world Perry has created in this one is dark, depraved and devoid of anything remotely like tinsel. But it was fascinating, with clever clue-dropping, an insider’s knowledge of crime in Victorian London, and characters as grime-besmirched and morally contentious as adversaries in a court of law or rival theologians.
James Wentworth has everything in the world but his son Lucien as Christmas approaches. The young man has been lured by drugs and vice into a tunnel of sewers and corruption that runs beneath polite society and feeds on its weaknesses. Lucien would seem to be lost for good but Wentworth prevails on a friend, Henry Rathbone, to search for him. Henry collects a former pimp and brothel owner who has turned respectable and a “doctor” without a medical degree who runs a clinic for the down-and-out and enters the underworld.
The journey is lurid, overripe with sickening sensations, fraught with inescapable peril and peppered with colorful denizens of opium dens and whorehouses. Pubs are filthy, blood slicks stone steps in a dark alley, the mere mention of a vile crime boss inspires terrified silence, a legendary beauty haunts the scraps of information about Lucien and his descent into hell. Eventually, the unlikely trio takes on a gutsy teenage barmaid who knows something, and encounters a wraithlike old man in a lavender frock coat who is the key to the tragic story behind the story.
The streets, alleys and sewers are sinister and the festive holiday season begins to seem like the unreal realm. The interior struggles of the seekers are as interesting as their pursuit of Lucien and the truth. A Christmas Odyssey is a richly-detailed, intense journey with high stakes and wonderful characters. Evil and honor are at war in this book but there is never a simplistic attempt to paint the morbid and complex canvas in anything as obvious as black and white.
A Christmas Odyssey: A Novel Anne Perry | Ballantine Books 2010