by Anne Perry
Headline Book Publishing, United Kingdom, 2017
Age group: teen to adult
Format: 176 page hard cover
Does ‘Christmas mystery’ mean a crime story set at Christmas, or a story about the unknown and Christian faith? This book has them both covered…
A couple travel from Turkey to Jerusalem in 1900 and find carrying a message is more complex than it seemed.
I am starting this review despite only have read a few pages as the writing style is so enticing that I already like the characters and want to know more – so a great start to this book which is set (so far anyway) just before Christmas in Jaffa, Turkey.
Actually, this is Perry’s 14th novella in her festive series! I am intrigued as to how she can write so many books all about mysteries/crimes involving Christmas so watch out for future reviews of her books to find out!
After finishing the book…
A Christmas message is set in 1900 with newly weds Victor and Vespasia travelling by train from Jaffa in Turkey to Jerusalem. Both characters have appeared in a number of Perry’s earlier books so there is a progression but I didn’t find this hindered my reading of this book.
The book starts with the couple meeting an older man and receiving from him a message to deliver to a ‘House of Bread’ in Jerusalem. There is intrigue and mystery as to who the man was, what the message is (our heroes can’t read it as it was not in a language they recognised), and how they will manage the delivery. Along they way, they meet a strange character they called Benedict and are threatened by The Watcher. All of that was interesting and somewhat as expected.
However, there is an increasing level of religious and spiritual discussion in the story as it progresses. There are pages and pages of these discussions rather than focusing on the mystery of the message – from thoughts about redemption to the star within (as distinct from the wise men following a real star to Bethlehem). It was not as expected and fits an entirely different genre to a mystery book.
It is a modern book (Perry published this in 2017) so uses contemporary writing but works in the 1900 atmosphere nicely. Even to the point that Vespasia is having these religious epiphanies but can’t mention them to her husband as ‘one doesn’t bring up such things’!
I would have liked a bit more about Jerusalem as it was and certainly more focus on the mystery (although the philosophy sections finally connected with the mystery, it was unnecessary and over the top for me).
Would I recommend it? Hard to say really – it is easy to read, has some interesting things in it (like the train from Jaffa to Jerusalem as that line only existed between 1891 and 1948), and I like the characters. The religious thoughts and underlying message was a bit much for me – both in it being religious but also it was based on metaphors and a deeper level of thought than the book enticed me to.
If you already know Perry’s character, I dare say this is a great read for giving them a happy ending; if you like theology and mysteries together, you will love this book; if you just want a simple mystery without the morals and religion, find another story!