The library had none of the books I ordered and there was a half-shelf of Anne Perry mysteries just sitting there like an open box of chocolates so I grabbed a few. Terrific escape-from-too-much-taxing-reality reading. A Christmas Grace was a lovely afternoon’s respite from several busy days. Nothing like a little murder and killer storms along the Irish coast to provide entertainment.
Emily Radley travels, against her will but guiltily, to a Connemara village on Ireland’s West coast to spend Christmas with her dying aunt. She hasn’t seen Susannah in a lifetime and she hates to leave her children and holiday celebrations in London but her husband persuades her it is the right thing to do. Susannah, who married for love against her family’s wishes and is now widowed, is very frail and troubled by some secret that seems to have the whole town in its grip. As a terrible storm bears down on the coast, the fear rises palpably and the weather explodes in a maelstrom of wind, rain, lightning and ferocious tides. Through a flash of lightning, Emily sees a ship foundering offshore and, as it sinks, the sea casts a lone survivor into the shallows.
The rescue of the shipwrecked sailor awakens old memories that plunge the village into terrified and suspicious behavior. Daniel, the sailor, can’t remember much more than his first name but has an uncanny way of asking the questions that uncover each person’s most closely held dreams, failings and fears. Emily determines that Susannah wanted her there to uncover the clandestine knowledge that is poisoning the people and emptying the village. Daniel’s questions stir up doubts and uncertainties Emily hadn’t realized she harbored about her own happy marriage. And then she discovers that seven years ago a similar fierce storm cast another young sailor ashore—and that someone in the village murdered him.
A Christmas Grace is a search for motive rather than means. It holds a sense of darkness and menace but no urgent tension or frightening threats to the sleuth or her failing aunt. Emily does come perilously close to dying at an auspicious moment in the plot and she stirs up a hornet’s nest of her own when her questions hit too close for comfort. This is a murder mystery more in the vein of Agatha Christie than Carol O’Connell or even Kate Atkinson. But it is an enjoyable read and I’m happy to have a couple more Perry mysteries to wile away blustery spring evenings in the company of good stories.
A Christmas Grace: A Novel Anne Perry | Ballantine Books 2008