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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review - A Christmas Homecoming

The holiday season is upon us and I wanted to review a few seasonal mysteries to help get us in the singing and decorating mood.  I took this opportunity to read my first Anne Perry holiday novel.  Let's go to Whitby England and an isolated mansion.

Author:  Anne Perry

Copyright:  October 2011 (Ballantine Books) 224 pgs

Series:  9th in Victorian Holiday Mysteries

Sensuality:  n/a

Mystery Sub-genre:  Historical Sleuth

Main Character:  From the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels:  Charlotte’s mother, and her young actor husband, Joshua Fielding

Setting:  1897 Whitby England, isolated mansion

Obtained Through:  Library
I suspect that writing a holiday murder mystery is a delicate balancing act.  A murder doesn't bring visions of sugarplums dancing and nutcracker ballet dancers.  But to write a murder mystery where a troupe of snow bound actors are rehearsing to perform a play of Dracula is a tremendous challenge.  You must not bring too much of the horror out, emphasis the human touch and magic of relationships, and still have an interesting murder to solve.  This is the challenge in Anne Perry's newest holiday release, A Christmas Homecoming.

Anne Perry's popular characters of Charlotte and Thomas Pitt lend us Charlotte's mother Caroline and her younger actor husband Joshua for this story.  The acting troupe agrees to spend the holiday with a wealthy philanthropist helping his daughter polish her play adaptation of the wildly popular novel Dracula.  The troupe is sacrificing their holiday to work on the play and present to the local folks to ensure financial support from the family in the new year.  The snow starts piling up.  And a mysterious man, Anton Ballin, claims his carriage has broken down and seeks shelter with them.  The snow gets worse and roads are blocked by downed trees and deep snow drifts. 

They continue to refine the script and rehearse it.  During this process the new guest, Anton Ballin, seems to know a lot about the the themes of Stoker's book and has an amazing ability to suggest changes that bring the script and acting alive.  Yet nobody knows who this man is.  Caroline stumbles over Ballin's body late one night, with a wooden stake through his heart.  Then the body disappears over night.  But where could it have gone?

This book is an interesting story but other than knowing one of the people in the mansion is the killer, the reader does not have the final piece to the puzzle until the very end when Caroline figures it out as well.  Why was Anton killed?  It has to do with who he really was - and that is not obvious. 

This book is stronger on the character interplay than a taught mystery which keeps it a holiday story.  I like the characters of Caroline and Joshua and would love to know them even better.  This was my first Anne Perry mystery and I am interested in reading the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries after reading this.

The one wish I have is that working out the mystery and the killer confrontation with the killer would have had more time dedicated to them.  It feelt like a rushed wrap up to the mystery.  Otherwise I did enjoy the writing and the story.  The insights provided by Anton Ballin about the themes of Stoker's Dracula has brought the classic to life once again for me.

If you are looking for a light mystery that won't be too heavy for the season, this might be the ticket.

For your holiday baking here is a Cherry Chocolate Cobbler
    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup white sugar
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup butter
    1 cup chocolate chips
    1 egg
    1/4 cup milk
    1 (21 ounce) can cherry pie filling add a little almond extract flavoring

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Coat a 2 quart casserole dish with vegetable cooking spray. Melt chocolate chips in a measuring cup in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds until smooth. Let stand for 5 minutes to cool slightly.
    In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter until the dough is a uniform crumbly texture. Beat the egg into the melted chocolate chips, then stir the milk in. Pour the chocolate mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir until well blended.
    Pour the cherry pie filling in an even layer in the bottom of the greased casserole dish. Drop spoonfuls of the chocolate batter over the cherries in a random pattern.  Optional: Sprinkle the topping on now.
    Bake for 40 to 45 minutes in the preheated oven, until top crust is not doughy when lifted. Serve warm.

a little flour,
some brown sugar,
sliced almonds,
butter and
a little almond and vanilla extract.
Mix together and sprinkled over the cherry filling then bake it.

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