First Sentence: It was not the Christmas Vespasia had planned.
Vespasia and Narraway had hoped for a quiet Christmas at home. Instead, they are obligated to attend the country estate gathering of Max and Lady Amelia Cavendish. More than a holiday celebration for Narraway, former head of Special Branch, he is there to uncover a traitor.
Perry does an excellent job of introducing one to the characters, as well as providing background on Vespasia's history and relationship with Narraway.
Perry's observations often cause one to pause—"But this visit was duty, and he learned long ago that no happiness was untarnished for long if you had shirked duty in order to take it." A nicely done recounting of Narraway's history reveals the significance of this visit. Most authors would be inclined to depict Narraway as a classic strong male. Perry skillfully avoids that trope and gives us a man with faults and insecurities, and we like him all the more for it.
The relationship between the two principal characters is an interesting one and Perry captures the nuances of it perfectly. The sharpness repartee between Vespasia and Amelia is perfect and reflects Perry's skill with dialogue. She also captures the audacity of status; how those who are "higher" believe it gives them privileges simply because of their rank.
One can't help but love Vespasia as she begins to conduct her own investigation and demands that Victor let her help, and for snapping at him when he dismisses her idea—"But with a woman, it is not the words, it is the message that matters." For those readers who have followed Perry's series for years, this Vespasia seems much sharper in tone. It is rather gratifying.
"A Christmas Gathering" is a good addition to the series of novellas. It's always nice to see her normally secondary characters move into the limelight. The story has a subtle building of tension and while the suspense is well done, it is truly the characters who bring make this book work.
A CHRISTMAS GATHERING – Good
Hist Novella-Vespasia/Narraway-England-early 1900s
Perry, Anne – 17th in series