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The Ghost of Christmas Past: A Molly Murphy Mystery    by Rhys Bowen order for
Ghost of Christmas Past
by Rhys Bowen
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2017 (2017)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I'm not sure how I managed to miss the sixteen previous episodes in this delightful cozy historical mystery series, but I did. Series lead is Molly Murphy, a charismatic private investigator from Ireland, now wed to police officer Captain Daniel Sullivan. They have a small son, Liam, and some time ago, they took into their lives as a ward young Bridie, who used to be maid to Daniel's mother Martha.

We learn that, in the previous episode, Molly had a miscarriage in San Francisco, and is still depressed. Now, they're back in New York just before Christmas, and Daniel's job hangs in the balance. Complicating their lives even further, Bridie's father has announced that he'll soon be back in her life and plans to take her back to Ireland with him. Neither Bridie nor Molly looks forward to his arrival.

Surprisingly, Molly and family (including Bridie and Martha's new maid Ivy, fresh from an orphanage) are invited to spend the holidays at a mansion on the Hudson, owned by Cedric and Winnie Van Aiken (whose aunt Florence is a friend of Martha's). It seems like an ideal location, but there's a shadow over the festivities. A decade before, a toddler (small Charlotte Van Aiken) wandered out into the snow and was never found. Her mother has never got over it.

On Christmas Eve, Charlotte comes home. Winnie immediately accepts her as her daughter but Cedric has doubts about her story. Then Cedric's elderly aunt dies - natural causes? As fans expect, Molly's investigative instincts are aroused and she eventually uncovers the surprising facts behind Charlotte's original disappearance and her current identity.

Though the puzzle and its resolution are intriguing, I have to say that I enjoyed this novel more for its engaging characters and historical setting than for the mystery itself. I can easily understand the appeal of this long-running series.

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