Perry’s 14th helping of seasonal warmth and crime (Revenge in a Cold River, 2016, etc.) is more stripped-down and elemental than ever, maybe because its Holy Land setting casts such a spell.
Now that he’s retired from Special Branch, Lord Victor Narraway can do what he likes, and what he likes at Christmas 1900 is to bring Lady Vespasia, his wife of nearly two years, on a trip to Jerusalem. Even before they reach the Holy City, their journey seems suffused by a portentous note struck by an elderly man with whom they happen to dine in Jaffa. Although he never tells them his name, they are struck by his gravity and humility in discussing his travels and his attachment to Jerusalem and horrified when his throat is cut the following night—not just because his hotel room is quite close to theirs, not even because he had been quick to second Vespasia’s uncanny suspicion that someone had been watching their meeting. When Victor finds in his pocket a note their companion has left them warning that “the Watcher draws near” and asking them to deliver the accompanying parchment, written in a language they cannot read, to the House of Bread on Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa by Christmas Eve, they set out with new purpose and a new sense of danger. The Watcher, of course, is on their trail, and they’ll need all the help they can get from Benedict, a fellow passenger who escapes with them from the train to Jerusalem, and Haroun, whose followers rescue them from the desert to which they’ve surrendered themselves.
The parchment that’s been so contested, along with two others equally sought, turns out to be something priceless, inspiring, and not at all likely to disturb any readers of this extended greeting card who keep Christmas.