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BOOK REVIEW: 'A Christmas Garland': Anne Perry's Christmas Novel Features Victor Narraway Facing an Almost Impossible Task
Narraway's a young officer in the British army in India, not the prominent figure of the author's "Dorchester Terrace" (2012) and "Treason at Lisson Grove" (2011), the predecessor of Thomas Pitt as commander of the Special Branch and ("Dorchester Terrace" my review:http://www.huntingtonnews.net/29850 ) and his boss ("Treason at Lisson Grove" my review: http://www. huntingtonnews.net/3578).
It's December 1857 and twenty-year old Lieutenant Victor Narraway, two years out of Eton and in besieged India for only a year, has been posted to the British army's garrison in the town of Cawnpore, site of the June 1857 siege and subsequent massacre of hundreds of civilians and soldiers. Britain, with only a few thousand troops, is barely hanging on in India when a guard in Cawnpore garrison is killed and a Sikh prisoner escapes, which leads to more British deaths as the army goes after the escapee.
Even though there are no witnesses to testify against him and no evidence against him, British medical orderly Corporal John Tallis is arrested as an accomplice because he was the only soldier unaccounted for when the crimes were committed. Everybody -- from Dr. Rawlins, his superior officer, to the men of the garrison who've turned to him for treatment of wounds and everyday ailments -- agree that Tallis is a brilliant orderly, with skills that would make him an outstanding doctor. This makes the crime he's charged with all the more puzzling.
Narraway is told by Colonel Latimer -- who picks him to defend Tallis and who will serve as presiding judge -- to put up a good defense but not to try very hard with a man who insists that he's innocent. Latimer obviously wants everything wrapped up by Christmas.
Although he's not a lawyer, and he only has a few days to prepare his defense, Narraway moves to learn the details of the escape and the murder of the guard. Inspired by a soldier’s widow and her children, and by his own stubborn faith in justice, Narraway searches for the truth. In town haunted by fresh memories of massacre, he is the orderly's only hope.
"A Christmas Garland" reminded me of one of my favorite films, "Breaker Morant" (1980) set during the Boer War at the beginning of the 20th Century in South Africa, directed by Bruce Beresford, where an inexperienced British officer played brilliantly by Jack Thompson is assigned to defend three Australian lieutenants on trial for shooting Boer prisoners.
Like Beresford's masterpiece -- and I recommend it without reservation -- much of the action in "A Christmas Garland" is a courtroom drama, with the defense attorney investigating the crimes. And thanks to a simple Christmas garland given him by the widow's young daughter -- and a game of hide-and-seek, Narraway comes to a different conclusion than that of the officer in charge of Tallis's trial -- and the prosecuting officer, Captain Busby, who has some history with Narraway.
I sometimes joke that Anne Perry and Joyce Carol Oates -- both born in 1938 like the present reviewer -- write faster than I can read. How Perry and Oates can be so prolific and maintain the highest standards of writing will always be a mystery to me!
About the Author
Anne Perry is the bestselling author of nine earlier holiday novels—A Christmas Homecoming, A Christmas Odyssey, A Christmas Promise, A Christmas Grace, A Christmas Journey, A Christmas Visitor, A Christmas Guest, A Christmas Secret, and A Christmas Beginning—as well as the William Monk series and the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series set in Victorian England, five World War I novels, and a work of historical fiction, The Sheen on the Silk. Anne Perry lives in Scotland. Her web site:www.AnnePerry.net.
For more on the Cawnpore siege and massacre: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Cawnpore.