Prather's Pick: Book is an enjoyable 'Christmas Secret'

Lately I've been reviewing new holiday books for children, so this week it's the grown-ups' turn. "A Christmas Secret," a novel for adults, is written by Anne Perry.

As the novel opens, Dominic Corde and his wife Clarice are on a train that's leaving London. Their destination is Cottisham, a village about two hours away.

It's December 14, 1890, and the Cordes look forward to three weeks in the country. The bishop has requested that Dominic preach and minister to the people in Reverend Wynter's absence. The reverend is away from the village for a well-deserved holiday.

The three weeks will be a holiday of sorts for the couple, too, and it is most welcome. It is a chance to get away from their flat in the dreary industrial area of London. Even more, it's good to be away from Reverend Spindlewood.

Dominic has been serving under Reverend Spindlewood as curate, and the job has been less than satisfying.

Finally at the village, Dominic and Clarice find the vicarage to be comfortable and the countryside -- with its thatched houses, woods and fields -- to be charming.

Mrs. Wellbeloved (the names in the novel are intriguing, indeed) is a stout woman with hair piled on top of her head.

She cares for the vicar and his home but informs Dominic and Claire that she's on holiday, too. She can do only some of the heavier work.

The Cordes are surprised to find that Harry, a retriever, and Etta, a cat, have been left in their care. But, no matter.

Dominic quickly settles in with his responsibilities, visiting the village people and writing a special sermon for Christmas.

Dominic and Clarice become acquainted with the residents.

Among them is Peter Connaught, from the manor house, and Mr. Boscome, the vicar's right hand man. And when Mrs. Paget visits Clarice, she offers advice: avoid Mrs. Lampeter's baking and Mrs. Porter's soup and never give Mrs. Unsworth any flower duties (the flowers turn brown at her touch).

Since Mrs. Wellbeloved can't help with most of the housekeeping duties, Clarice takes them on. As she tidies up, Clarice notices some oddities. Why did the vicar leave his leather-bound Bible behind?

Reverend Wynter is well known for his drawings. Some of them hang in the house. Yet, he has left his charcoals, easel, and other drawing supplies behind.

In addition, the animals aren't very happy. Harry goes outdoors and wants right back in. Etta doesn't seem very satisfied with anything. When Mrs. Paget visits, Etta bristles up and runs away.

Then, one day, when Clarice unlocks the cellar door, Etta runs past her. Harry follows. Clarice supposes Etta is hunting for mice, but when Clarice locates the animals, she makes a grisly discovery.

The Cordes had not counted on having to solve a mystery.

Anne Perry has written numerous novels, including two series set in Victorian England and four Christmas novels.

"A Christmas Secret" is published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House Publishing (2006). This small hardcover book is $16.95. It is also a new book at the Moffat County Library. ISBN 0-345-48581-5

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