“The Ghost of Christmas Past” by Rhys Bowen

THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST

By Rhys Bowen

Although it’s Christmas in 1906 New York City, Molly Murphy Sullivan, who’s exchanged her detective hat to become a wife and mother, isn’t in the holiday spirit. Sadly, Molly’s suffering from depression, the result of a miscarriage following her recent trip to San Francisco. The trip coincided with a major earthquake where she and her husband, police Captain Daniel Sullivan, nearly died.

When Molly, Daniel, their son, Daniel’s mother, and their young ward, Bridie, are invited to celebrate Christmas at a mansion on the Hudson, the family gratefully accepts expecting a wonderful holiday. As soon as they arrive, however, they begin to feel an undercurrent of tension, even menace, in the house. There seems to be a terrible strain between their hosts, Winnie and Cedric Van Aiken. Molly soon discovers that a decade ago, on Christmas Eve, the Van Aikens’ three-year-old daughter wandered out in the snow and disappeared.

Molly can certainly identify with Winnie’s pain, and wants to help the poor woman. But there was no ransom note, no clue was ever found, and a massive search at the time of the disappearance yielded absolutely no answers. Daniel says there’s nothing more that can be done, but Molly slowly begins to suspect that the occupants of the house know more than they’re letting on. And why does Cedric’s elderly great aunt keep calling Daniel by another name?

When Christmas Eve arrives, there’s a knock on the door and a young girl stands on the threshold. “I’m Charlotte,” she says. “I’ve come home.” Winnie is overjoyed at the sudden appearance of her child, but Cedric is wary. He enlists Daniel to check into the child’s flimsy story to see if she really is Charlotte.

“The Ghost of Christmas Past” is a well-crafted, satisfying mystery with intricate plotting and a cast of characters readers will fall in love with. I certainly did! A perfect read, no matter what the season.

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