Review posted December 12, 2013.
Ballantine Books, New York, 2012. 194 pages.
There's nothing like a nice murder mystery for Christmas! Reading Anne Perry's Christmas mystery has gotten be a tradition with me. I was sorry to miss last year's, since I was judging the Cybils Awards. This year, I'm a second-round judge, so I was able to make up for lost time and read last year's.
This one is historical, which Anne Perry does so well. We're with British soldiers in India in 1857, during a large mutiny, shortly before Christmas. Lieutenant Victor Narraway has just arrived in Cawnpore, and he's given an assignment:
Latimer smiled bleakly. There was no light in his face, no warmth of approval. "You will be aware of the recent escape of the prisoner Dhuleep Singh," he went on. "And that his guard, Chuttur Singh, was hacked to death in the course of Dhuleep's escape?"
Narraway's mouth was dry. Of course he knew it. Everyone in the Cawnpore station knew it.
"Yes, sir," he said obediently, forcing the words out.
"It has been investigated," Latimer's jaw was tight, and a small muscle jumped in his temple. "We know Dhuleep Singh had privileged information regarding troop movements, specifically regarding the recent patrol that was massacred. We also know the man could not have escaped without assistance." His voice was growing quieter, as if he found the words more and more difficult to say. He cleared his throat with an effort. "Our inquiries have excluded every possibility except that he was helped by Corporal John Tallis, the medical orderly." He met Narraway's eyes. "We will try him the day after tomorrow. I require you to speak in his defense."
Everyone is sure Tallis is guilty. As the Colonel said, the matter was investigated. But they want to uphold the rule of law and be sure he gets a fair trial. So Narraway is to defend him. A daunting task for Narraway, and one which he can't win, and which no one wants him to win.
When he talks with Tallis, the man claims he is innocent. He was sorting medical supplies and no one saw him, but he did not kill the guard. Narraway likes him and wants to help, but it certainly looks like he will hang.
Out of this situation, Anne Perry creates a riveting mystery which ends with nice warm Christmasy feelings. Perfect for the season.