Mariah Ellison isn't merely disappointed to learn that she won't spend Christmas at home with her married granddaughter : she is furious. Instead, Grandmama is being packed off to a house in the Romney Marshes to stay with her ex-daughter-in-law. Never having got on with Caroline, Mariah much disapproves of her new husband : decades younger than her, Joshua, an actor, is scarcely even respectable. There will be nothing to do, no one to visit, and no doubt the terrible weather will make even taking a walk impossible. It is going to be the worst Christmas of Grandmama's life.
As if that weren't enough, another visitor is foisted on the household. Then something shocking and quite unexpected happens. Has a crime been committed ? Grandmama is surprised to find herself turning detective - another profession she deplores - and proving extremely good at it.
After my previous experience with this series, I was weary but this novella turned out to be a good surprise, more along the lines of what I remembered from having read several Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels years before.
The main character here is Mariah, Charlotte's grandmother. At first sight, she's completely unlikeable, someone you would hate to have to spend Christmas (or any other time) with. She's a bit like the Grinch, or a sort of Scrooge : always criticizing, always turning up her nose at what people say or do, judging everything along the Victorian prejudices. One of her grand daughters married a policeman, another married a Jewish actor (younger than her !), she remembers with shame her own marriage, she's bitter, hurt and would die rather than show it.
This is a murder story, of course, but with psychological analysis and, as a Christmas story, there is a redemption theme. Who would have thought Mariah would investigate on the murder of someone she reproved of ? Who would have thought she'd be able to spot a murder in the first place ? And taking upon herself to investigate, who would have thought she'd jump at the chance to show another side of her personality to people who didn't know her ?
I have a fondness for people that I would love to push down the staircase in real life but make for great interests in written stories. And I love it even better when they are not one sided, but have inner vulnerabilities to explain how they became what they are.
Grandmama inviting herself into a family at Christmas, interrogating suspects without seeming to do so and refraining from snapping at them for the sake of the investigation was a perfect escapism read for the season, with a depth that I always appreciated in Anne Perry's books.