I requested an advanced copy of New York Times bestselling author Anne Perry’s “A Christmas Legacy” that comes out Nov. 2, 2021. When I started this novel, I thought this was a standalone tale, but as I read the back story for the main character, I realized other tales came before this one. Pieces of information were shared like how the main character Gracie met her husband, Samuel Tellman, when she’d worked in service to a prominent family, Sir Thomas and Lady Charlotte Pitt. Then, how she knew the young lady, Millie Foster, who came knocking at her door in Chapter 1 when the conflict for the plot was revealed. I looked at the list of past titles from Anne Perry and found the “Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series.” That’s one way to get me to read more from this author! Well, played, Ms. Perry.
I must have read the first sentence several times though. I didn’t immediately catch on that Gracie and Charlie were mother and daughter for some reason. The year is 1900, Grace mixed a cake for Christmas, and Charlie wanted to lick the bowl and spoon. A knock on the door from Millie, a housemaid at the home of the Harcourts, interrupted the cozy scene and presented the main conflict. Decadent food items were disappearing from the house, and the servants were afraid of blame for fear they’d be turned out before Christmas with no recommendation. Millie had heard of Gracie through her mother. In another story, her mother had been wrongly accused of theft and deemed an unfit mother. Gracie and now-husband Samuel had proven her mother’s innocence. Gracie decided to take on Millie’s case. She told her husband to watch the kids while she took Millie’s place as housemaid to the Harcourts. With just days before Christmas, she hoped to solve the mystery of the missing food and save Millie’s position.
My first thought was that the book needed a better jumping off point. The “must-plunge-character-in-deep-water-immediately” mantra popped into my mind. Instead of the cozy baking scene, open the story with with a nervous, but brave Millie standing outside Gracie’s door where through a window she can see mother and daughter in the kitchen baking. I won’t give away why the food items went missing at the Harcourts, but I will say the mystery rather was about where it was going and why. The fear that staff would be blamed and let go into the frigid-cold streets of London right before Christmas ran throughout. I’m a Dickens fangirl; I knew that meant the dreaded workhouses.
Meanwhile, what Gracie learned that the servants may not have known was the Harcourts were hurting for money, and were looking to cut staff regardless. They sounded like they were living beyond their means. They made me think of Jane Austen’s Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot in “Persuasion.” Those two just could not see what more they’d need to give up to economize and went right on living as if they weren’t flat broke.
Gracie had a home and family to go home to and this was brought up to her often by the senior servants. They worried she’d do something that would get the youngest staff turned out. The worst would be to lose their position without a recommendation. Talk of brothels was thrown in and may have been meant to frighten Gracie. Workhouses were often where young people were sent. Whether workhouse or brothel, quality of life would be poor with disease and early death following. The fear was real. But then the servants were willing to protect another. They fought that fear so as not to lose the best part of themselves, the part that loved others and wanted to fight for them to keep their dignity.
“A Christmas Legacy” reminded me of “Upstairs, Downstairs” and the more-recent “Downton Abbey.” The servants were their own below-stairs family. Despite my early confusion, I enjoyed this Christmas tale and now have new books to add to my to-read list. I did wish it hadn’t ended so abruptly without much room for goodbyes, but then it was an uncorrected proof. I look forward to reading the finished book in November. Thank you to Netgalley.com for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this story. To learn more about this book and to preorder it, go to https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/651820/a-christmas-legacy-by-anne-perry/.