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by Anne Perry
Ballantine, October 2012
208 pages
ISBN: 0345530748

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Anne Perry's latest Christmas novella is set in 1857 in the midst of the Indian rebellion which led to the establishment of British rule of that country. In the British garrison, an Indian guard, Chuttur Singh, is brutally killed, and the sole prisoner, Dhuleep Singh, escapes. Dhuleep had knowledge of a British patrol route, and his escape is followed by an ambush of the patrol; all but one soldier are killed.

A British medical orderly, John Tallis, is arrested and charged with being an accomplice to the horrible murder and the escape. There is absolutely no evidence against him, but he is the only person in the area who can't provide an alibi or witness as to where he was at the time. For this, he may hang.

Victor Narraway, a character from Perry's Pitt series, is a young lawyer here, thrown into the fire. He's ordered to provide a defense for Tallis, but not necessarily a thorough defense. "Just make as much of an effort as you have to so there's no question that the hanging is fair," he is told. But when Narraway meets with Tallis, he begins to believe that Tallis may be innocent; he has seen "real desperation there, the kind a man has when truth is on his side."

As the courtroom case nears an end, Narraway must rush to find some proof that Tallis is innocent. As Christmas approaches, he also befriends a young widow and her two young children, one of whom presents Narraway with a paper garland. The young child will also unexpectedly provide Narraway with an idea, and the lawyer will reciprocate with holiday kindness. As he tells the weary, grief-stricken mother, "We shouldn't ever forget Christmas, or make little of it. We give presents when we can, but there's no gift as precious as Christmas itself."

Perry's novella, too, is a present to us: a nicely done whodunit wrapped in inspiration and hope.

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

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, November 2012

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