by Anne Perry
Okay, having a donkey and a dark-skinned foreign gentleman named Mr. Balthasar in a Christmas story is a bit derivative—but I found it didn't matter.
Thirteen-year-old Gracie Phipps—who will soon become a servant in the household of Charlotte and Thomas Pitt—lives with her impoverished grandmother in one of the poorest areas of London and soon faces life working in a factory. But just before Christmas she befriends 8-year-old Minnie Maude, whose Uncle Alf has just been murdered while on his rag-and-bone route. Minnie is desperately searching for Uncle Alf's donkey Charlie, who vanished after the murder, and good-hearted Gracie promises the little girl that she will help her look for the creature.
But as the two children start asking questions, it becomes obvious that others involved with the crime, like Minnie's aunt and uncle and the man who found Uncle Alf's body, are frightened, but frightened of what? And is the killer now stalking Gracie and her new friend?
Perry's descriptions of Gracie's life bring this little mystery to life: the cold, the poverty, the residents' efforts to celebrate Christmas despite their social situation. It's an exciting tale that solves a further mystery in its final two pages.