Pub. Date: November 14, 2017
Source: e-ARC via publisher (Thank you, Minotaur!)
Summary: Semi-retired private detective Molly Murphy Sullivan is suffering from depression after a miscarriage following her adventure in San Francisco during the earthquake of 1906. She and her husband, Daniel, are invited for Christmas at a mansion on the Hudson, and they gratefully accept, expecting a peaceful and relaxing holiday season.
Not long after they arrive, however, they start to feel the tension in the house’s atmosphere. Then they learn that the host couple’s young daughter wandered out into the snow ten years ago and was never seen again. Molly can identify with the mother’s pain at never knowing what happened to her child and wants to help, but there is so little to go on. No ransom note. No body ever found. But Molly slowly begins to suspect that the occupants of the house know more than they are letting on. Then, on Christmas Eve, there is a knock at the door and a young girl stands there. “I’m Charlotte,” she says. “I’ve come home.”
Genre: Cozy Mystery, Historical Mystery
Last week in my 5 things I’m loving right now post, I mentioned Rhys Bowen. While she’s new-to-me as a reader, when I was a bookseller we’d see her books by the truckload! The Molly Murphy series alone has 17 books! She always seemed the an author I would enjoy…and I’m so thrilled to say I was right. Not only did I tear through The Ghost of Christmas Past, but I’m already itching to dive into the first novel and do a serious binge read!
After suffering a miscarriage, Molly Murphy is just now beginning to slip from her depression. When she and her husband Daniel are invited to a friend’s grand mansion for Christmas, they readily accept, eager to spend the holidays among their friends. At first, everything is pleasant: Molly’s toddler Liam and her mother-in-law’s companion Bridie and new maid Ivy are all thoroughly overwhelmed (and positively enchanted) by the house’s vast size – both Bridie and Ivy were raised in an orphanage and have certainly never seen anything so luxurious and massive before – yet quickly take to exploring the mansion’s many rooms and Molly discovers her two good friends happen to be staying at the hotel that’s practically next door.
It’s one of these rooms that leads to the reveal of a terrible tragedy. A nursery, untouched for years, full of any and every toy a little girl could ever want. Molly learns their hosts for Christmas, the Van Aikens, once had a daughter named Charlotte. On Christmas ten years ago, the 3-year-old simply wandered out into the snow and, despite an intense police investigation and search, she was never seen again. …until now. Exactly ten years to the day, there’s a knock at the door revealing a young girl claiming to be the Van Aikens’ daughter.
While a returned child long thought dead would be a cause for celebration (and Mrs. Van Aiken, Winnie, certainly is wasting no time lavishing her daughter with attention and love), Molly isn’t as readily accepting of the girl’s story. Where she was, how she escaped and came home, something doesn’t add up – particularly after Molly learns an elderly aunt’s recent passing most definitely was not due to natural causes. With the help of her police officer husband, Molly is determined to uncover the girl’s true identity – and finally learn what became of Charlotte the night she wandered out into the snow.
The Ghost of Christmas Past was such a great read – short and quick, absolutely perfect for a newcomer to the series and I’m sure would be a great read for longtime fans as well. Because I hadn’t read the previous novels, the circumstances behind Molly’s miscarriage were unknown to me, as was Bridie’s history as an orphan turned maid turned beloved companion, but I was easily brought up to speed and before I knew it, I was completely attached to these characters!
The mystery itself was so intriguing: a little girl seemingly vanished into thin air and now a decade later a young girl turns up and claims to be that same missing child. Um, sign me up! Because this is a cozy, there’s next to no gore at all (I can see other mystery authors writing a MUCH darker story – and I would read each and every one of them), but I was still captivated. Because I hadn’t read the other novels, I wasn’t familiar with which characters were new and which ones already had established histories, but there was one scene where I immediately knew what the Big Reveal would be. In no way did my correct guess take away from the story. In fact, I think I enjoyed it even more, I wanted to see how Molly would work it all out!
I’m ashamed it’s taken me this long to finally read a Rhys Bowen novel – the first Molly Murphy book came out in 2001, her debut was released in 1997! – but it’s safe to say I’m absolutely hooked! The Ghost of Christmas Past was a highly entertaining read that completely sucked me in and had me turning pages as a rapid-fire pace. I was instantly drawn to Molly and her family and couldn’t be happier this series is so long – I can’t wait to have more Molly Murphy in my life!