Lonely Charles Latterly arrives at his small hotel hoping that the island’s blue skies and gentle breezes will brighten his spirits. Unfortunately, there’s no holiday cheer to be found among his fellow guests, who include a pompous novelist, a stuffy colonel, a dangerously ill-matched married couple, and an ailing old man. The one charming exception is orphaned teenager Candace Finbar, who takes Charles under her wing and introduces him to the island’s beauty. But the tranquility of the holiday is swiftly disrupted by a violent quarrel, an unpleasant gentleman’s shocking claims of being stalked, and the ominous stirrings of the local volcano. Then events take an even darker turn: A body is found, and Charles quickly realizes that the killer must be among the group of guests.
Captivating in its depiction of untamed nature in all its awesome power, and of the human heart in the throes of transformation, A Christmas Escape gifts readers with Anne Perry’s talent for making the season brighter—and more thrilling.
Praise for the Christmas novels of Anne Perry
“Perry’s Victorian-era holiday mysteries [are] an annual treat.”—The Wall Street Journal
A New York Christmas
“A thoroughly enjoyable mystery set against the wonderful historical backdrop of 1904 New York City at Christmastime.”—Library Journal (starred review)
A Christmas Hope
“Very much recommended . . . a wonderful story.”—Historical Novel Review
A Christmas Garland
“In Anne Perry’s gifted hands, the puzzle plays out brilliantly.”—Greensboro News & Record
A Christmas Homecoming
“Could have been devised by Agatha Christie . . . [Perry is] a modern master.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A Christmas Odyssey
“[Perry] writes with detail that invades the senses.”—Lincoln Journal Star
About the Author
Hometown:Portmahomack, Ross-shire, U.K
Date of Birth:October 28, 1938
Place of Birth:Blackheath, London England
Read an Excerpt
Charles Latterly stared across the untroubled sea at the shore they were fast approaching. The mountain rose sharply, as symmetrical and uncomplicated as a child’s drawing. The sky above was midwinter blue. At home in England they would be expecting snow at this time in December, but here, so close to Sicily, the wind off the salt water was mild. The small boat barely rocked.
He had been looking forward to this break from the reality of London, work and the routine of his life, which lately had seemed more meaningless than ever. The recent death of his wife had given him an acute feeling of loss, but not in the way he had expected. There was no deep ache of bereavement. It forced him to realize that perhaps he had felt alone for a long time.
Would three weeks on Stromboli, a volcanic island in the Tyrrhenian, accomplish anything, change anything inside him? Would it heal the sense of helplessness, the bitterness of endless small failures? Maybe. It would certainly give him a long time to think, uninterrupted by the petty details of life.
He was in his midforties, yet he felt old.
They were almost at the shore. He could see men on the wharfs busy unloading fishing boats. There were small houses along the front, and streets leading inland, climbing quite steeply. It all looked simple and homely, probably much as it had done for two thousand years or more.
The mountain was bigger than it had seemed at a distance. It towered above them, almost bare of vegetation except for patches of grass. The terrain looked smooth, even gentle from here.
It was time to pay attention to landing. The boat was only feet away from the wharf edge. Ropes were tossed and made fast. A man shouted in broken English for Charles to get out, to hold on so he didn’t slip. They were all cheerful, smiling to make up for the words they didn’t know.
Charles thanked the men in polite English, and accepted a steadying hand so as not to fall on the wet stones. He should make an effort to learn a little Italian. It would be a courtesy.
Someone passed him up his case. He had brought only the necessities: a minimum of clothes, a pair of boots, toiletries, and a couple of books. His intention was to spend his time walking as much as possible.
He knew that the hostelry where he was staying was quite remote and a long way from the port village—too far to walk with a case—so he hired a pony cart and driver to take him up the side of the mountain.
It was a pleasant ride, although the rough roads were quite steep in places. As they moved away from the water’s edge, Charles realized that the landscape was actually far more varied than he had thought. The central cone of the volcano was not as symmetrical as it had seemed from below, at sea. It towered above them, bare toward the top, as if shorn of its grass and shrubs. Yet it had a kind of beauty that was brave but also almost barbaric.
His driver nodded. “She sleep now,” he said, showing gaps in his teeth as he smiled. “She wake up. You see.”
Charles thought that he would rather not, but it would be impolite to say so. They were passing through rolling grassy country now. He imagined that in the spring and summer it would be full of flowers and butterflies, probably bees. A good place to walk.
They passed a few small settlements, some of whose narrow streets were cobbled, others, merely dry earth. The limestone houses were whitewashed. They looked as if they had been there forever. Women were busy with picking herbs or gathering in laundry. Children played, running and hiding, fighting with sticks for swords. Old men stood by a fountain on the street corner and stopped their conversation long enough to look briefly at the passersby.
As they drove, the driver gave commentary Charles did not understand, though he smiled and nodded at suitable intervals. He was relieved when they finally arrived at the low, rambling house well beyond the villages that was to be his home for the next three weeks.
“Thank you,” he said as the man handed him his case. He paid the agreed amount and, as the pony and cart set off back toward the shore, he turned to look for his host.
The low midwinter sun cast a warm light on the stone house, slight shadows hiding blemishes and giving it an infinitely comforting look.
Then a man came out of the door and hurried toward him, a broad smile on his face, his hand held out.
“I am Stefano,” he said cheerfully. “You must be Signor Latterly, yes? Good. Welcome to Stromboli. Is beautiful, yes?” He waved his arm in a broad sweep to include the huge, looming mountain and the arch of the sky, which was already darkening in the east. The fire of sunset in the west was painting the sea with color. A faint wind stirred, carrying the scent of the grasses.
“Yes, it is,” Charles said quickly. “I look forward to exploring.”
“Tomorrow,” Stefano agreed. “You have come a long way. Now you are tired. You eat. I have something for you. I show you your room. Yes? Come.” Without waiting for Charles to reply, he led the way past the front of the house, along a small passage between buildings, and out into a courtyard with a bubbling fountain in it.
Charles had no time to look at it or admire the stone fish that formed its base. Stefano briskly led him into another open-air passage at the far side of the courtyard and opened the second door along.
“This is your room,” he said with a flourish. “You are welcome. Kitchen is that way.” He pointed. “Come when you are ready. I make you something to eat, yes?” He patted his ample stomach. “Nobody sleep well empty. Not good. I look after you, you leave Stromboli a new man!” He smiled widely. “Yes?”
“Yes . . . yes, please,” Charles accepted, walking past Stefano and inside. He set his case down, staring around him. The room was small, containing a bed, a table and chair, and a washstand. There was also one chest of drawers and a makeshift closet composed of several hooks behind a curtain. The floor was tiled in a warm earth shade. There was a bathroom through a small door, to be shared with his immediate neighbor. He did not care for that, but it was acceptable. It was all immaculately clean. The cool air through the open window smelled of dry earth.
He unpacked, changed his shirt for a fresh one, and washed the other. When he was ready, he left his room and walked along the passageway to the kitchen as Stefano had indicated.
Stefano looked up from the bench where he had been chopping a fine green herb. There was a piece of broiled fish on a plate on the bench beside him, garnished with bright red tomato.
“You are hungry?” Stefano said cheerfully. “Fish? A little vegetable? Bread? Yes?” He held out the plate and gestured toward a table with a chair pulled up to it. He took a carafe of red wine and poured two glasses full. “A little raw still,” he said, putting one glass on the table in front of Charles and the other in the second place, where he sat down himself.
“Eat,” he encouraged. “Give thanks to God, and enjoy.” He reached across and took one of the slices of fresh crusty bread, dipped it in olive oil, and put it into his mouth.
Charles found himself doing the same. He must have been far hungrier than he realized. The food was delicious and he ate it all without giving it thought.
“You like to walk?” Stefano asked cheerfully.
“Yes, indeed,” Charles agreed. “How far up can I go?”
“All the way up to the crater. But you have to be very careful. Never go up alone, in case you fall. Always take someone with you, and let me know.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was a rip off! Buyers beware! You pay $10 for 79 pages!
To call this short story a novel is like calling an ant an Amazon
This year has been a scarcity in holiday books, but I have read Anne Perry's latest Christmas novella. This story centers in Stromboli, and an active volcano ready to eliminate all in its path. Charles Latterly, Hester Monk's brother, goes to Stromboli for a vacation and rest, and meets other individuals seeking the same retreat during the holiday season. Charles becomes friends with a young orphan and her guardian, the Finbars. The other guests are Mr. and Mrs. Baxley, Quinn, and Colonel Bretherton. All seem to be enjoying the sumptuous feast prepared by the host, until tempers heat and the volcano awakens. Perry writes a compact Christmas novella complete with despair, hope, and love.
Charles Latterly, a recent widower, is taking a vacation on Stromboli, one of Italy’s islands over Christmas. The inn where he is staying is in the shadow of a volcano that has been sputtering on and off for years. He is thrilled to meet Stefano, their host, who is a wonderful cook and tries his best to take care of and calm his guests. The other guests consist of The Baileys, who are a mismatched couple. Mr. Bailey bullies his wife as well as treating everyone else abominably, often baiting them. Colonel Bretherton is an old military man, who seems to care very much about Mrs. Bailey. The Finbars, Roger, an older gentleman who is his great-niece’s guardian, and his precocious niece, Candace, who meets Charles upon his arrival and charms him immediately. The last vacationer is Quinn, a best-selling author who wrote a rather racy book from the perspective of his major character, Lucy, who reminds Candace of her feisty grandmama. Considering this is a novella, Anne Perry does an admirable job of introducing us to her characters and letting us get to know them. There is a lot of animosity between some of the characters, which plays out at the dinner table during meals. Most involves the obnoxious Mr. Bailey. Quinn and Mr. Bailey often have curt words with each other with Candace coming to his defense and inadvertently causing more issues. Charles tries to be the peacemaker in a couple of situations but is not always successful. Mr. and Mrs. Bailey do not seem to have an amicable relationship and the smitten Colonel must be careful not to intervene in their situation. When Bailey turns up dead, although it is covered up to look like an accident, there are any number of suspects. Of course, that investigation has to be put on hold as the volcano wakes up and furiously begins to spew lava and hot rocks. The mad dash down the mountain and the dead bodies left in its wake bring this story to a fast and furious ending. This short novella is well-written with descriptions that are very realistic and make the reader feel like they can actually see the beautiful Stromboli. The biggest disappointment about this novella is the fact that, other than being set in the Christmas time frame, there is not much about it that is Christmas-like. The story may just as well have taken pace at a different time of the year as during this holiday season. I have not read any of the Anne Perry mystery series so can not relate to her other books as many of the other reviewers have done but I enjoyed the book as a standalone.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating. I love how the author has made a holiday tradition of writing these Christmas-themed suspenses each year for a side character from one of her historical detective series. This time, the hero is Charles Latterly, brother to Hester Monk part of the William Monk series. This side story doesn’t have romance for Charles though I hope there is something for him in the future stories. The holiday Christmas stories series have a series order, but the real connection isn't within this series. The connection is to the other series by the author. This book's character is connected to the William Monk series and can be read somewhere after the first few books. It functions well as a standalone, too. Charles' wife has just died and he is feeling adrift. He's middle-aged and is taking stock of his life and isn't pleased with what he perceives as a life devoid of success. So instead of spending a dreary Christmas at home, he takes a holiday trip to the Mediterranean isle of Stromboli. He is staying at a guest house up near the peak of the volcano so he can walk about to see the sites and explore the volcanic region. On arrival, he is delighted with his host, a happy Italian man who loves to cook and make his guests feel welcome, and by a young, orphaned, Candace Finlay who takes to him as much as he takes to her. But once he is settled in, Charles experiences the undercurrents caused by the other guests at the house. It all swirls around an antagonistic man who pokes at everyone and breaks up the peace. Then things take a dire turn when the volcano decides to wake up and a murderer works as lava, rock, and ash rain down. Charles must worry about the safety of the group while knowing that one of them committed murder. This one is a novella-length story so naturally its development is succinct. I loved the buildup and the climax, but the denouement felt somewhat abrupt. As to the buildup, the author does a good job of developing each character, establishing the setting and atmosphere, and leaving the reader with a ticklish mystery in which several characters could be the culprit. Beyond these things, I enjoyed the companionship of Charles and the young Candace as he connects with her and wonders what would have been if he had children, particularly a girl as bright and unique as Candace. This is not a bright holiday tale. It is deep, but there is sadness mixed in with the hope. The tone is bittersweet and a tad melancholy. I must have been in just the right mood because I was satisfied with the emotions the story drew out. My only real niggle is that the revelation and subsequent ending felt rushed and abrupt. Yes, it leaves thing clear about who and much of the why, but skipped over the how and a more in depth why. I do hope there will be more Charles and Candace in the regular series. So, again, I enjoyed the story of one of the side characters set at Christmas time with his own mystery to solve. The setting was fantastic and I felt like I took a little journey to southern Italy as a result. Fans of Victorian era historical mysteries should give this story and the larger William Monk series a try. I received this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
10 dollars for 75 pages .disgusting.