Great news for everyone nervously contemplating a trip home for the holidays: it can’t possibly be as fraught as Mariah Ellison’s visit to Rowena Wesley to rescue her old friend from an ancient scandal that’s roared back to life.
Twenty years ago, Haslemere doctor Owen Durward was accused of raping and murdering Christina Abbot, a 14-year-old abducted on her way to visit a friend. He retained Cullen Wesley, Rowena’s husband, to defend him. But something made Cullen change his mind about acting on Durward’s defense, and the night he withdrew from the case, he was killed when a bookcase fell on him and an ornamental cannonball on top of the bookcase crushed his skull. Now that Durward, who plans to marry a wealthy widow, has returned to Haslemere to clear his name, Peter Wesley, Cullen and Rowena’s grandson, sends a plea to his grandmother’s old friend to help her fight back against the doctor's accusations. Just in case Mariah doesn’t think the case is urgent enough, Peter also sends her a Christmas pudding with a duplicate cannonball nestled inside. Arriving in Haslemere, Mariah finds Rowena at first unwilling even to see her, then unable to muster the energy to battle Durward, who’s spread the word that Cullen withdrew when he learned that Rowena had begun an affair with Durward. But Mariah has never backed down from a fight, and soon she’s linked Durward to an even older outrage in nearby Brocklehurst. Armed with her potent discovery, she returns to Haslemere planning to confront Durward in the most public forum imaginable: the village Christmas party.
No real suspense or surprises, and even fans of Perry’s holiday novellas (A Christmas Message, 2016, etc.) may find it hard to swallow the injunction to seasonal revenge. But as the vicar’s wife points out, “What’s Christmas about, if not hope and giving a hand where it’s needed?”