Veteran Perry (A Christmas Garland, 2012, etc.) draws back the curtain on an 11th round of decorous Yuletide skullduggery among the oh-so-proper Victorians.
Claudine Burroughs doesn’t expect much from the Christmas party her distant husband, Wallace, has dragged her to. Forbes Gifford, his second wife, Oona, and their guests are as colorless as they are correct. The only bright spot Claudine finds is a chance meeting with rough-edged Welsh poet Dai Tregarron when she ventures onto the terrace for a breath of fresh air. But the stimulation his company offers pales before the news shortly afterward that the party gets from Creighton Foxley, Cecil Crostwick and Ernest Halversgate, the sons whose parents are among the guests. According to them, Tregarron has set upon Winnie Briggs, another guest, and seriously wounded her. When Winnie dies in the hospital with Claudine at her side, the charges against the missing Tregarron are upgraded to murder, even though Claudine, in whose stable he had taken refuge after fleeing the scene, suspects that the testimony against him is a tissue of self-serving lies. Taking time out for her volunteer work at the clinic Hester Monk runs for sick and wounded prostitutes, she makes the rounds of the other guests, probing ever more deeply into their relations with the dead woman.
Though there’s precious little mystery here, there’s considerable pleasure to be had in watching Perry, on her annual sabbatical from her cumbersomely virtuous anatomies of Victorian social mores (Acceptable Loss, 2012, etc.), manage Claudine’s nimble cut-and-thrust conversations with young people, society hostesses and her own husband.