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By Anne Perry

Ballantine, 2006 ($16.95)

Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel

Clarice Corde and her husband Dominic, who have been less than enthusiastic about his first posting as an assistant curate of a London church, are thrilled when they get the opportunity to spend the Christmas holiday in the village of Cottisham. The vicar, Reverend Wynter, has taken an unexpected vacation and Dominic is enlisted to fill in for him. Cottisham seems like an ideal community, with kind and helpful inhabitants who welcome the couple with open arms. Then Clarice makes a grim discovery, and it becomes clear that all is not as it seems in this picturesque village. Several people are keeping dark secrets, and at least one of them will stop at nothing, including murder, to protect those secrets.

This is the fourth in Perry's series of Christmas novellas. As in the previous three, it showcases minor characters from previous novels. Clarice and Dominic were introduced in BRUNSWICK GARDENS, a Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery, where they fell in love and went through some kind of traumatic situation together. I have to admit I can only vaguely remember them, and they are not as interesting to me as the characters in the other novellas. There are brief allusions to the tragic events that occurred before their marriage, but I'd like to have learned a little more about those obviously life-changing events. A CHRISTMAS SECRET is still, however, worth reading for the view it gives us of English village life in the Victorian era. No one can portray the historical and cultural aspects of that period better than Perry.

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