It is 1905 in New York City. Molly Murphy Sullivan runs across two out-of-the-ordinary street urchins. The four-year-old little girl has a beautiful voice. Her eight-year-old brother speaks in a way that makes it clear they came from a middle- or upper-class family. Why are they begging on the streets?
In the midst of a busy Christmas season, Molly sets out to trace their mother who seems to have abandoned them. At the same time, she is preparing for her family Christmas celebration. Her family includes her husband Daniel, their infant son Liam, and Birdie (another child she has taken on).
Someone shoots Molly’s police official husband. The shooting has nothing to do with the orphans, but it adds to Molly's stress and makes it so her husband can’t be as much help in her investigation.
Molly’s mother-in-law and two neighbors pitch in to help.
Molly traces the children's mother. She finds the abusive woman who has been keeping the two children. And she uncovers the children’s awful backstory.
Along the way, Molly makes a crucial mistake. She gives up an important piece of evidence and puts the children in danger.
Away in a Manger is the first Molly Murphy story I have read. Two things attracted me: (1) I was looking for a good Christmas mystery; and (2) My father’s Italian parents immigrated in the same 1890-1902 time period as the Irish Molly Murphy. I wanted to see how Rhys Bowen would portray that time.
Rhys Bowen fills Away in a Manger with references to earlier stories in the series. I expect to go back and read some of the earlier books. They begin with a book about Molly’s immigration to the USA.