Taking a sabbatical from her usual protagonist, Constable Evan Evans (Evanly Choirs, 1999, etc.), Bowen introduces a new sleuth in a 19th-century setting. Molly Murphy, living in Ballykillin village in Ireland, has just killed Justin, a son of the gentry, when he tried to rape her. Now she’s on the run, planning to board a ship to England. At the dock, she’s approached by Kathleen O’Conner, mother of two, hoping to board the Majestic to New York to join her husband Seamus. Unfortunately, the mandatory physical exam has revealed that Kathleen has tuberculosis, and she is forbidden from sailing. So she begs Molly to take her name and bring the children to their father. Naturally, Molly agrees with alacrity, and is soon caught up in the misery of an ocean trip in steerage—to say nothing of the unwelcome attentions of the brutish troublemaker O’Malley, who seems to have known the real Kathleen. After the landing at Ellis Island, O’Malley is found stabbed to death. Police detective Daniel Sullivan questions Molly, little knowing how deeply the murderer’s identity is buried in past events and acts of betrayal.
Molly is a charming if pushy heroine who eventually earns Sullivan’s appreciation. The plot is perhaps too thick with red herrings, but the portrait of the ocean voyage, Ellis Island, and the early wave of Irish settlers in New York is fascinating.