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by Anne Perry
Ballantine, October 2010
208 pages
ISBN: 0345518586

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

With just 10 days to go before Christmas in the year 1865, James Wentworth is desperate to find his son, a 34-year-old man who has disappeared into London's West End, in the grip of drugs and the allure of a strange woman. He turns to his friend Henry Rathbone, but Henry doesn't know the underworld either. So he recruits Squeaky Robinson, who used to run a brothel but now works in Hester Monk's medical clinic. Squeaky, in turn, finds two more companions to help: Crow, an unofficial doctor to the poor, and Bessie, a teenaged tavern girl who has seen Lucien Wentworth recently.

Unlike Perry's other Christmas novellas set in the Scottish Highlands, on the Irish coast and other scenic locales A CHRISTMAS ODYSSEY plunges us into a Dickensian London, one of dark cellars and sewer tunnels. The search for Lucien takes the four deeper and deeper into a nightmarish London where the stench of opium, stale alcohol and body fluids assaults them. It's a world populated by the addicted, the sexually depraved and the mentally ill.

Even if they do find Lucien, it's not certain they'll be able to rescue him. Shadwell, a shadowy, ruthless man who owns Sadie, the woman who has enthralled Lucien, may not want to release the hold he has on Lucien, as well. Will they succeed? As Henry says at one point: "We all fail at something. One way or another. Things that don't work out as we had hoped, people we love who don't love us, dreams that crumble. Time catches up with us, and we realize what we haven't done, what chances for kindness, for courage we have wasted, and too many of them won't come again. We see glimpses of what we could have been, and weren't."

It's a season of hope, though, and the four, even at great danger to themselves, bravely continue the search. While a darker book than her other novellas, A CHRISTMAS ODYSSEY is still a story of redemption and love, and Perry's fans should not be disappointed.

Lourdes Venard is a newspaper editor in Long Island, N.Y.

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, November 2010

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