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A CHRISTMAS BEGINNING


By Anne Perry

Ballantine, 2007 ($17.95)
ISBN-13: 978-0345-48582-3

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Senior Superintendent Runcorn is taking a break from his high-stress job with the Metropolitan Police Force, spending Christmas on the Isle of Angsley. His reason for visiting the village of Beaumaris, a lonely, quiet outpost near the Welsh border: he has no better place to go. Runcorn is ill at ease with people, has no close friends or relatives, and he wants to be as far from London with its chaos and crowds as he can. Things will not be as peaceful as he’d expected, though. Soon after he arrives, he bumps into someone he knows from a previous case. John Barclay, a hard, arrogant man, is the brother of Melisande Ewart, a widow who helped solve the case, against her brother’s wishes. Runcorn does not admit to himself that he loves her, thinking that she sees him only as a policeman, not a man worthy of her love. When he meets her again here on the island, she appears to be glad to see him, but he puts that down to her kind nature.

Crime happens not only in big cities, but also in small towns, and murder does not take a holiday. Runcorn comes upon the body of a beautiful young woman in the churchyard, someone he’d seen before. Policemen can not stop being policemen even when they’re out of their jurisdiction, so even though Runcorn knows he should leave the case to the local officials, Constable Warner is obviously out of his depth. When Sir Alan, the senior lawman in the area, takes charge, Runcorn sees something that causes him to wonder if the man might have a conflict of interest. He and Barclay are friends, and he tells Runcorn that his help is no longer needed, and furthermore, that he should keep quiet about their prior acquaintance. Word spreads that the police are looking for a madman, and fear of this unknown menace puts a damper on the holiday celebrations.

Melisande knows very well that the murder was done by someone who knew the victim. The young woman’s headstrong, difficult personality had earned her several enemies, and most of them are present on the island. Runcorn agrees to help. Even if he can never reveal his true feelings to her, he can use his talents and training to solve her friend’s murder. She is aware that his findings might bring unwelcome news about people she is close to, but she wants justice to be done.

In his quest, Runcorn learns more about himself. He thinks often of things that a former colleague, William Monk has said to him -- that he is narrow, close-minded, cold. He realizes Monk was right, and he starts trying to make a change for the better.

This is the fifth in Perry’s Christmas series. Each features a different secondary character from the William Monk or Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series, allowing the reader to know more about their world and the people in it. This is a nice addition to the series.

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