There's something quite lovely about Perry's Victorian Christmas stories (this
is her seventh). Readers are practically guaranteed a touching holiday tale wrapped around a grisly murder. The contrast is fascinating, and the story, though sometimes difficult to plow through because of the Cockney dialogue, is meticulously laid out and hard to put down.

Just days before Christmas, 13-year-old Gracie Phipps meets 8-year-old Minnie Maude Mudway on a freezing street in London's notorious East End. Minnie Maude is bereft, alone and determined to find her friend Charlie -- a donkey who belonged to her Uncle Alf. Alf has been brutally murdered, and someone made off with his rag-and-bones cart, as well as Charlie.

Gracie joins poor little Minnie Maude on this quest, and the two follow the unusual path Uncle Alf followed to his death. He was not on his regular route, and the cart held more than the usual bits of china and silver. As the girls are drawn deeper into the adult world of thievery and murder, they find an unexpected friend in shop owner Mr. Balthasar. (BALLANTINE, Nov., 208 pp., $18.00)

Reviewed by: 
Pat Cooper