Well, it was a rough week. The brain did not engage this morning so I defaulted to the last of the Anne Perry mysteries I collected at the library—a slender episode in her holiday series. It seemed like a more practical choice than finishing Luminarium, a good book but much more work. A Christmas Homecoming is a classic cozy—an acting troupe snowed-in at a country estate, a storm-stranded stranger who is given shelter until the blizzard abates, loads of personality clashes, shifting relationships and a horrible murder that had to be committed by someone in the snowbound house.
A light read. Caroline Fielding has married a much younger actor, the head of the repertory company who travels to Yorkshire to put on a performance of an adaptation of Dracula written by a patron’s daughter. It is a house at war with itself—the décor and shadow of a domineering mother-in-law still inhabits the rooms. It is magnificent but dark and somber despite the efforts of Eliza Netheridge, its current mistress. Charles Netheridge, the self-made millionaire who owns the estate, is humoring his daughter Alice who wants to be a playwright. He has scheduled a performance of her play for Boxing Day in the house’s theatre.
Jealousies, flirtations, poisonous repartee, a truly awful script and the dire necessity to fix it while not alienating the wealthy host, the surprisingly astute observations of the stranded guest and Caroline’s attempts to smooth things to protect her husband Joshua build to a gruesome discovery at midnight—and then an even more gruesome discovery as Caroline sets out to solve the crime. Suspicion is bound to fall on the members of the traveling theater troupe, who are the unknowns in the fishing village of Whitby.Whitby happens to be where Dracula first set foot on English soil and some of the housebound believe that vampires might be real and that one may be among them.
There are some interesting discussions of the nature of evil to enjoy but A Christmas Homecoming is not a hold-your-breath novel. It has its grim moments and ugly surprises and it is convincing and solidly crafted. Just what a brain-dead writer and daily book devourer needed to refocus on how, some days, even the simple stories can save us.
A Christmas Homecoming: A Novel Anne Perry | Ballantine Books 2011