This is a book that I mentally sat on for a few days after reading it. It is that good. Unbeknownst to me when I started reading the novel, this was Simone St James first book. It is a ghost story with some truly startling moments and well developed characters.
The day I met Mr. Gellis, I had been walking in the rain.
And this Sarah Piper’s adventure began. The setting is England in the 1920s just after WWI. Sarah is a 24 year old woman who takes jobs from a temp agency and seems to be very lonely and basically going through the motions in life. There are hints to a dark past that could be the cause of her threadbare existence and distance from people; and although she seems a bit sorry for herself, she doesn’t allow herself to be a victim of circumstance. So when her agency calls and informs her they have a meeting set up for her where a man specifically asks for a young woman assistant…well she balks a bit thinking he will likely be a leacherous older man who wants to take advantage.
Who she meets instead is Alistair Gillis, a good looking and rather charming man who doesn’t need money and hunts down ghosts to write about. The man is obviously scarred by his experiences in the war, but hides them behind an easy smile and letting people think he is eccentric. The reason he needs a female, is because he believes he has found a real ghost…only she hates men. Hates men in a way that results in thrown lanterns an violence. So, the madam who is going to allow him to see the ghost will only do so if a woman is the one who talks to the specter whose name is Maddy Clare. Once Mr Gillis explains just why he needs Sarah…well she is not sold on the idea of being ghost bait. However rent is two weeks over due and practicality takes over.
From this point, the story quite literally takes off. I finished the book in less than 3 hours, it was so smoothly and engagingly written. Maddy Clare is a terrifying ghost who capable of atrocities. We follow Sarah’s first hand account and watch her grow as a person; where initially she seems too soft to deal with the horrors Maddy is capable of to standing strong in defiance of what others say and do.
There are large moments in life; but sometimes it is the small moments—the casual moments—that change everything. The second’s absent wandering of attention before an accident. The choice to take one road, instead of another. I could not pinpoint exactly how everything changed the second I opened that washroom door; I knew only, and instantly, it seemed, that nothing in my life would ever be the same.
The mystery of Maddy is compelling, and while she is obviously out for blood, you can’t help be be sympathetic for her tragedy. In the midst of this complex investigation and truly terrifying hauntings, Sarah must come to terms with not only her past, but Maddy’s as well.
The love interest of this book was…let us just say that I had a love-hate relationship with him. Matthew is… a jerk. He is standoffish and doesn’t give Sarah an inch. He is Mr. Gillis’s normal assistant. But more than that he also surved in the war and is having trouble coming to terms with it.
You can’t imagine how hard it is to come home from hell and be expected to pick up the threads of a life. Apply for jobs, go to a factory, punch in, punch out. Put your lunch in a bag and get on the omnibus every day. Like nothing happened. Nothing.
Still, while I know it does happen, I hate when people continually use their pasts against people who HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM. He alternately protective of Sarah and cruel to her. He pretty much thinks she has nothing in her own past that can compare to the horror of his. The fact that he is wrong and prejudice quite frankly pisses me off for most of the story.
Ultimately this was a fantastic ghost story of a mystery with well developed characters who actually emotionally grew during the novel. Not only that, but the writing was darn near poetic it was so well done.
I pulled on the blouse again and went to my room. I changed into a soft, flowered shirt-dress from my suitcase, my favorite garment, unfashionable but comfortable and easy to wear. Putting it on felt like a hug from a friend. Only a woman can truly understand the feeling of her very favorite item of clothing.
Between the well developed story, the fascinating characters, and the beauty of the writing style…this was an easy five stars for me.