cover image A Christmas Message

A Christmas Message

Anne Perry. Ballantine, $20 (176p) ISBN 978-1-101-88638-0

Metaphysical concerns weigh down bestseller Perry’s unsatisfying 14th Christmas-themed mystery (after 2015’s A Christmas Escape). In 1900, Victor Narraway, the former head of London’s Special Branch, gives his wife, Vespasia, a trip to Jerusalem, a present whose “spiritual resonance” surprises her. On a stopover in Jaffa, the pair encounter a kind old man at their hotel, but when they return to their lodging on the following evening, Victor finds the man with his throat slit and his room ransacked. Meanwhile, Victor discovers a piece of parchment in his jacket pocket evidently from the dead man. Folded within the parchment is an unsigned note beseeching Victor to deliver it to “House of Bread on the Via Dolorosa” by Christmas Eve. The Narraways feel morally obliged to fulfill the request, a choice that places their lives in danger from a shadowy menace. The heavy-handed spiritual struggle the couple subsequently endures leaves the reader with the sense that the important themes Perry explores would have been better suited to a longer work. Agent: Donald Maass, Donald Maass Literary. (Nov.)