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by Anne Perry
Ballantine, November 2021
208 pages
ISBN: 059315939X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Anne Perry's Christmas novellas are always an early gift, and the 19th follows in that vein. In this Victorian-era novella, the protagonist is Gracie Tellman, who had once been in service as a maid to Charlotte and Thomas Pitt and is now married to Samuel Tellman, a police inspector in London. But she's a good detective in her own right.

Although Gracie hasn't worked as a maid for years, she voluntarily returns to service when 14-year-old housemaid Millie Foster begs Gracie to take her place and investigate strange doings at Harcourt House. Gracie agrees, but promises her children that she will return in time for Christmas.

With just a few days to investigate, Gracie arrives at the house and finds it somewhat in turmoil. She overhears the Harcourts discussing cutting back some of the staff and the staff itself seems to be keeping a secret, one that may cost them their jobs. Everyone is walking on eggshells, except for Gracie, who knows she has nothing to lose—she can always return to her comfortable home. Yet she is determined to help those in the house.

This is a story about the interaction between the "downstairs," the servants, and the "upstairs," the family that employs them. But these are not the benevolent relationships portrayed in Downton Abbey. They are much more reflective of conditions in 1900. For one thing, many of the servants are just children, ranging in age from 11 to 13; they are frightened of being thrown out on the street at the whim of Mr. and Mrs. Harcourt, who do not treat any of their employees kindly.

The only mystery in this novella is slight, and solved before the ending. But that's not really what the story is about. The ending reminds us that the spirit of the holiday is about the giving of ourselves—and that, hopefully, in the giving we will be receiving something in return.

§ Lourdes Venard is an independent editor who divides her time between New York and Maui.

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, November 2021

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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