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by Anne Perry
Ballantine, October 2009
208 pages
ISBN: 0345510666

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Gracie Phipps helps her gran, running errands and the like. The Phippses are poor, barely scraping by. When Gracie runs into Minnie Maude Mudway, she makes a promise she regrets. Minnie is desperate to find Charlie, her Uncle Alf's donkey. Charlie has disappeared, and Minnie is convinced he'll die if he isn't found. It's bad enough Uncle Alf is dead, murdered, without losing Charlie too.

Both Gracie and Minnie have other things to do, little free time to go wandering around out of their respective neighborhoods on what everyone else considers to be a wild goose chase. Still, a promise is a promise, and the girls manage to learn quite a bit more than one might expect, under the circumstances. Grace discovers, among other things, that not everyone has the kind of loving family she does. Minnie finds out that not all of Uncle Alf's friends have any desire to find out what happened to him; they just want the whole mess to go away.

They are helped in their investigating by Mr. Balthasar, a man who bears an amazing resemblance to another famous Victorian detective. Gracie and Minnie eventually do find Charlie, although they come perilously close to dangers they could not have foreseen.

Readers of Anne Perry's other Victorian mysteries are well aware that she doesn't hesitate to show the seamier side of that era. A CHRISTMAS PROMISE certainly does that. Perry's grasp of the finer distinctions of the various classes is spot on; Gracie clearly knows who her betters are, and just as clearly, who they are not. The only aspect of A CHRISTMAS PROMISE that grated was the use of dialect. Given the speech patterns of most of the characters, it would have been difficult to avoid this, but all the dropped H's and final G's, and the phonetic spellings really wore thin after a while. This may never become a Christmas classic; it will certainly make a pleasant addition to this year's seasonal books.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, November 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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