Huh. 1.5-2 stars…just because I like the author.
Normally I am a HUGE Simone St James fan. I have reread all of her books time and again (even the The Other Side of Midnight which has a psychic in it, something that is normally not my cup of tea.) But this one, this one fell short of her normal mastery.
Things I love about Mrs. St. James’s writing include her penchant for seamlessly putting together post Great War England, ghosts, romance, and murder while utilizing a certain poetic eloquence in her writing. This plot was not seamless, came short of eloquence, and was romantically flat.
Jo Mander’s is not a widow. She does not know what she is. Her husband disappeared three years ago when his plane went down behind enemy lines. Now she makes her living as a (sometimes) paid , traveling companion for an Aunt Dottie that he never mentioned before. In fact, as she accompanies Dottie home, Jo discovers that her husband was less than forthcoming on the majority of his life.
When Jo discovers his mad, young cousin died from falling off of the roof while he was there on leave during the war, Jo decides not only to investigate his cousin’s death, but also his own supposed disappearance. Add to matters, her aunt-in-law considers Jo a prospective bride to Dottie’s own son who needs to produce an heir quickly because he his dying from shrapnel wounds he received in the war, her uncle-in-law is a jerk, and the town hates the family because of vicious gossip.
It has all the appearances of being a fantastic plot. And yet…it was not. To begin, the first 60% of the book unnecessarily flashes back and forth between her present situation as Dottie’s paid companion and her past when she first met her husband, Alex. I found myself skimming. And later, I realized that the flashbacks really added nothing to the story. We did meet our ghost of a girl, Frances, the dead cousin in this portion of the book. Unfortunately, like the flashbacks, Frances as a ghost did not really add much to the story either. Sure there where some reveals that were done by Frances, but honestly there were easier and (dare I say) more believable ways for those reveals to have been made.
At a little over 60%, the book FINALLY picked up. At this point a character was introduced (view spoiler) that suddenly catapulted us into actually investigating what happened to Frances. No actual investigating happened prior to this point. It was all Jo just saying she “was going to find out” and “had to know.” Add a few red herrings (view spoiler), a few deus ex machina (view spoiler), and a few random moments of passion and the story…well did not end. It KEPT FREAKING GOING after the big reveal! On and on it went… tiresome.
Ultimately, none of the pieces of the story fit together for me. It was like the pieces of the puzzle where the wrong sizes and shapes for what the author was trying to accomplish. While Mrs. St. James did still have a way of turning a phrase, her eloquence was not satisfactory because the story just did not work. What a bummer.
I will definitely still pick up the next Simone St. James novel. But I am chalking this one up to food poisoning and a bad case of the “deadlines.”