A review that originally appeared in Black Static #26:-
Each year crime writer Anne Perry produces a seasonal novella, of which A CHRISTMAS ODYSSEY (Headline paperback, 170pp, £6.99) is the latest.
Set in the Victorian London of Perry’s Inspector Monk novels, Odyssey features secondary characters from that series. Barrister Oliver Rathbone’s father Sir Henry is asked to help in finding the son of a friend, Lucien Wentworth, whose obsession with a woman of the demi-monde has seen him come adrift in the lowest sections of society. Sir Henry goes to seek the aid of Hester Monk, but is intercepted by her ‘assistant’, former brothel keeper Squeaky Robinson, and with the enigmatic Doctor Crow on hand they head off into the criminal underworld in search of a lost soul, a quest that leads to signs of a murder having taken place and the mysterious Shadow Man.
This doesn’t have the substance of Perry’s longer works, and while the sub-culture into which the characters venture is convincingly portrayed, telling us rather more than we might wish about what our ancestors got up to when the whim took them, their motives for doing so seem rather unlikely. A chain of coincidence and convenience seem to drive the plot, while the Shadow Man doesn’t exactly terrorise in the way one is entitled to expect given his build up – he seems to be only the one man, so why the three heroes are so intimidated when they penetrate to his lair was slightly beyond me. The Wall Street Journal describes Perry’s work as having a ‘Jamesian subtlety’, though I’m unclear as to whether they meant M. R. James or Henry. In the main, this is little more than a time passer, with the appeal for Perry’s readers seated in the way in which further background information is filled in for lesser members of her dramatis personae, especially Squeaky, who seems set on course for a fine romance. There’s nothing to take serious exception to, and it should slip down a treat after the Christmas turkey for those who like their crime fiction borderline cosy and, in the post-analog age, still haven’t found the channel with continuous reruns of Miss Marple and Midsomer Murders, but I suspect only Perry completists will welcome it with open arms and a place in front of the fire.