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By Anne Perry

Ballantine, 2011 ($18.00)

ISBN-13: 987-0-345-52463-8
Kindle eBook: $9.99

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Caroline Fielding and her husband Joshua are spending Christmas in Yorkshire as the guests of the wealthy Charles Netheridge. His daughter Alice has written a play based on the book Dracula, and he has asked Joshua and his acting troupe to help her stage and perform it for the neighbors. He hasn't much faith in her talent, but he is an indulgent father. In exchange, he will help fund Fielding's company for the next year.

Caroline is a member of the aristocracy, the mother of three daughters, including Charlotte Pitt, wife of the London policeman Thomas Pitt. When her first husband died, she was well-situated for the rest of her life and was a respected member of society. She gave it all up to marry Joshua, an impoverished Jewish actor several years her junior. After several years of happiness, she has no regrets. Her husband is now successful in his field, and while their lifestyle is not as comfortable and lavish as the one she gave up, they have all they need.

To his dismay, Joshua finds that Alice's play is, to put it kindly, a disaster, but he does see some promise. He, Alice, and the small cast work long hours to improve it. Outside the snow turns to a blizzard, causing them to wonder if there would be an audience when the time comes. Joshua, who has the lead role, and Vincent Singer, who plays Van Helsing, clash frequently, increasing the tension in the house. One day at the height of the storm a stranger appears at the door. His name, he says, is Anton Ballin, and his carriage has broken down. He asks for permission to take shelter, and of course it is granted.

Mr. Ballin is interested in the play, and quickly demonstrates that he has some knowledge of the acting world. He makes suggestions that enhance the performance, which Joshua appreciates. Vincent, however, takes an instant dislike to the man and becomes increasingly difficult and obstinate.

While Joshua works on the play, Caroline sooths Alice's fears and befriends her mother Eliza, who lives in the shadow of her deceased mother-in-law. When tragedy occurs, Caroline, having learned much about police procedure from her son-in-law, takes charge, and with help from Joshua she solves the real-life drama and helps the two Netheridge ladies make some life-changing decisions.

This is the ninth of Perry's Christmas novellas, each featuring minor characters from Perry's Thomas and Charlotte and Monk series. As always, it is entertaining. The slightly menacing tone of the story, the fear that perhaps vampires are real, seems almost an homage to the popularity of vampires in today's culture.

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