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A CHRISTMAS GRACE
by Anne Perry
Ballantine, November 2008
224 pages
$18.00
ISBN: 0345502035


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It is Christmas of 1895 and Emily Radley receives a letter from her brother-in-law, Thomas Pitt, that tells that her father's youngest sister is dying. Normally, Charlotte Pitt would go to spend Christmas with her, but she has bronchitis. So Emily leaves her husband and children and travels to a small village in Ireland to be with Susannah for Christmas.

Upon her arrival, she quickly realizes that everyone in the village is afraid of something. When a terrible storm destroys a ship off the coast and washes the lone survivor ashore, she learns what they fear and understands that Susannah wanted her to come to find the answer so she can die at peace.

Emily describes her dilemma in this way: "What arrogance of hers to imagine she could come in here, a stranger, and solve the grief of seven years!" This characterizes the plot quite well. Emily is at a loss, as is the reader. She discovers information and succeeds in the task imposed on her but the outcome seems rather unlikely given the circumstances.

But then this is not a mystery but a Christmas story and so miraculous things can happen. A mysterious stranger arrives in town and begins to ask questions. He is the outsider who can see clearly what we are afraid to see. He upsets the status quo by causing us to question the way we view the world. And that is grace indeed for, as Ms Perry says, perhaps what Christmas represents, after all, is another chance.

Certainly the most stunning part of this book is the sense of the setting and atmosphere. The Irish countryside, bleak but beautiful with looming dunes along the coast, hills beyond the village, birds abounding but hardly any trees, and the sea out beyond the shore sometimes placid sometimes angry. The atmosphere is heavy, and the villagers are burdened by something Emily cannot at first understand.

The second night she is there a storm comes in. She wakes and looks out the window at the wind lashing the trees, the rain pelting down, the dark so deep that it is hard to see anything and then the brilliant flashes of light followed by crashes of thunder. The reader can almost feel the wind, the rain, the lightning. And then in one flash Emily sees a ship floundering out at sea. In the fury of the storm the villages do all they can to rescue any survivors. Again the descriptions are so graphic that the reader becomes part of the story.

Emily is at the center of the story. She arrives, secure in her place and her family, but doubts begin to surface as the stranger asks trenchant questions. She finally must face the doubts in herself and, the reader assumes, will do something about them when she returns to London thus earning another chance for herself as she has done for the village.

This is the sixth Christmas novel that Ms Perry has published. I am certain her loyal readers will find this one quite satisfactory.

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, November 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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