A Christmas Homecoming: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Oct 25 2011
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Praise for the Christmas novels of Anne Perry
A Christmas Odyssey
“[Perry] writes with detail that invades the senses.”—Lincoln Journal Star
A Christmas Promise
“Poignant . . . should be on the Christmas stocking list of anyone who likes a sniffle of nostalgia.”—The Washington Times
A Christmas Grace
“[A] heartwarming, if crime-tinged, complement to the holiday season.”—Booklist
A Christmas Beginning
“Intriguing . . . Perry’s use of period detail is, as always, strong and evocative.”—The Seattle Times
A Christmas Secret
“A delightful little book . . . Perry’s gift is that she can evoke a sense of place and time while still producing the thrills and chills expected of a modern-day mystery writer.”—The Orlando Sentinel
About the Author
Anne Perry is the bestselling author of eight earlier holiday novels—A Christmas Odyssey, A Christmas Promise, A Christmas Grace, A Christmas Journey, A Christmas Visitor, A Christmas Guest, A Christmas Secret, and A Christmas Beginning—as well as the William Monk series and the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series set in Victorian England, five World War I novels, and a work of historical fiction, The Sheen on the Silk. Anne Perry lives in Scotland.
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An acting company, led by Joshua Fielding is invited to a Yorkshire manor house to put on a play written by the owner's daughter about the recently published book -`Dracula'. What much of the novel becomes is an interesting analysis of how a book becomes a play, with all of the problems and rewards of actors and a writer working together. Intertwined in the plot is a visitor who seems to know too much about Dracula and then the family and the acting company's intermingling personalities.
Much is emphasized concerning the idea that one must invite evil into your home, it does not appear on its' own. Caroline, the older wife of Joshua must solve the gruesome murder that occurs in the snowbound house. All that she, the acting company and the owner of the mansion and his family know for certain is that the visitor, Mr. Ballin, is certainly not the one who has committed the murder.
This book would appeal to fans of mysteries and even of Dracula and those who enjoy the technical aspects of staging a play. If you are looking for that sweet little Christmas read, this might not fulfill your desires, but it is still an interesting look into the life of 1800's England and for the fans of Perry's Charlotte and Pitt novels.
A heavy snowstorm isolates everyone at the mansion on the hill. While the weather outside is frightful, a straggler Anton Ballin arrives asking for sanctuary from the storm. He uncannily resembles Dracula and makes recommendations to improve the production that sound like someone who is a vampire insider. Soon after his arrival, murder follows. With everyone locked inside the mansion believing Ballin is the cold blooded killer, Caroline investigates.
The latest Anne Perry Victorian Christmas mystery (see Silent Night and A Christmas Odyssey) is a superb locked mansion whodunit as Caroline proves to be a capable detective and a wonderful protagonist who holds the entertaining tale together. The cast is solid while Carline's detecting is clever fun. Fans will enjoy Pitt's in-law as an amateur sleuth investigating a homicide.
This is my favorite so far of Anne Perry's Christmas novels, short little treats she comes out with for her fans each year at this time. Indeed, I like it better than any of her work that I have read for some time -- her major series novels have become even more intensely finicky, the series story arcs often top heavy, to the point where they have become speed-reading skimmers for me, or I simply don't bother. The nice thing about the Christmas novels is that they take a side character from one of her Victorian series (the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series, or the WIlliam Monk series) and make them the central character in a more simply structured and shorter (about a half to a third as long) mystery. That character is often physically separated from the series' London haunts (in one case to far distant, wild, Ireland!), but even when not s/he is dependent on their own devices, not embedded in the web of characters that work on a case from multiple perspectives in the main novels. Their short length keeps the fine attention to detail characteristic of Perry to a level more suitable to at least my taste, and enforces a more straightforward resolution than the major novels with their digressions and red herrings. One reviewer mentioned that you don't need to have read the previous volumes in the Christmas series. Quite true, but it would certainly help if you are at least familiar with the series from which the central character is derived.
A Christmas Homecoming features Charlotte Pitt's mother Caroline, who, following the death of Charlotte's father, eventually fell in love with and married a most unsuitable man. Joshua Fielding was not only considerably younger than Caroline, but an actor and Jewish to boot. So in middle age, Caroline found herself cast out from the prissy upper middle class society that had been her whole life into theatre society and the sometimes uncertain role of an actor's wife .. and she thrived on it.
Joshua and Caroline are on their way to spend the Christmas holiday at the estate of Charles Netheridge outside of the Yorkshire fishing village of Whitby, where they will meet other members of Joshua's troupe to stage a dramatic presentation of Bram Stoker's hot new novel, Dracula, adapted by Netheridge's daughter Alice. This very stretch of coast is also where Dracula made landfall in England in the novel. Netheridge has supported Fielding in the past, and, if the play is a success, they hope he will sponsor them for the coming season.
The Fieldings, and the rest of the actors, arrive nine days before the performance on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas), just before a major storm snows them in. Introductions are made -- rounding out the household are Alice's fiance Douglas Paterson and Charles's wife Eliza -- and a preliminary reading of the script has Joshua declaring ruefully, "But it's actually awful." Fortunately, there may be time to ... diplomatically ... rewrite the script, rehearse the play, and convince the skeptical Etheridge and the antagonistic Paterson that it's worth doing at all.
It is a dark and stormy night, with the wind howling and the snow blowing crosswise in the light of thewindows when .. Lo! .. there is a knocking at the door!! A stranded traveller, tall, handsome, sepulchral, whose carriage has broken down and who has struggled through the snow drifts, is begging succour. Etheridge can do naught but offer him hospitality, but Anton Ballin proves to be not only charming but to have a deep knowledge of vampire lore, Stoker's book, and excellent suggestions for modifying and staging the play. Perhaps too much so?
This has been the setup. I won't say much about the actual plot, the mystery. One aspect I found quite nice was the fact that the murder (their has to be a murder!) doesn't take place until over halfway through the book. This keeps us guessing not only who done it, but who it is going to be done to. With the party unable to send for the police, Caroline (on the basis of her son in law's position as a policeman) takes over the investigation. The resolution is surprising, though well developed.
This novel isn't quite as simple as the above outline suggests. There are added levels of complexity, in particular the relations between the troupe members; the ghost of Etheridge's mother, whose memory and interior design tastes have lingered and oppress poor, timid Eliza; and the thorny relation of Alice and Paterson. This is a bit more than we have come to expect form the Christmas novels, and makes this one in particular more of a fully realized novel than a mere confection. I don't hesitate to give this an enthusiastic 5 *'s.
A Christmas Homecoming features Joshua and Caroline Fielding. Caroline is Charlotte Pitt's mother. Caroline had done the unthinkable in Victorian times to pursue a chance at love and happiness. She married an actor who is a Jew and 17 years her junior. When this all came out in the series, I really admired her. Now Caroline is the heroine in her own story.
The story is one of those atmospheric who-dunnits where there is a snowed in group of people with a body and a murderer.
It all begins when Joshua accepts the request of a rich man, Charles Netheridge, who has backed the troupe's plays before and they hope will back their spring production. The request is for them to come to his home in York near Whitby and act out his daughter's adaptation of Dracula. The troupe arrives and there are internal squabbles, but the biggest thing is that Alice's play is not anywhere near ready and they only have 9 days to get it there. On top of this, Alice's fiance resents her desire to write plays and be involved in theater. Joshua is stressed juggling the play re-writes, antagonistic players, and Alice's family. Caroline feels protective of Joshua and secretly wishes for Alice's success because Alice reminds her of Charlotte. Into this bumblebroth comes a stranger out of the storm. Anton Ballin settles into their midst with a vast knowledge of Vampire lore and theater experience with his past a great mystery.
Soon the family and guests see the play coming together even while many begin to wonder if there is something in the legend of Dracula. It all comes to a head when a murdered body is found staked and then the body disappears. Caroline must draw on everything she has learned from listening to Thomas to help solve this mystery before blame is firming planted in the wrong direction.
The overall plot was a fun romp with the Dracula legend producing the atmosphere as well as the storm shutting them all in together. The murder was almost secondary to the part of the plot swirling around the play and Alice's struggles between becoming a dutiful wife and doing what brings her joy.
The pacing was slow during the first half of the story. I found the detail about putting together a stage production and the way Anne Perry has of getting into each of her character's heads about deep philosophical issues interesting, but I will acknowledge that the forward movement was great until the murder occurred.
The characters were as usual Anne Perry's metier. I enjoyed getting to know Caroline even better and meeting the members of the Netheridge household along with the actors. My only complaint is I wanted more Joshua. I like him because he loves Caroline, but he was not prominent here.
Overall, it was a nice cozy read that I enjoyed.