Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Review: The Broken Girls

I'm a sucker for Gothics.  The suspense, the atmosphere, the woman-in-peril who doesn't realize at first she's in peril who then has to wiggle out of it.  So it seems pretty inconceivable in hindsight that it took me until 2016 to tear through Simone St. James' entire backlist on audio.  Once I was done?  I was bereft.  Because by that point the publication date for her upcoming novel, The Broken Girls had been delayed.  Well, it's finally here and I can say it was well worth the wait.

20 years ago Fiona Sheridan's sister, Deb, was found dead.  Lying in a field, near abandoned Idlewild Hall, in Vermont.  Pretty, vivacious, 20-year-old Deb had been murdered by her popular, rich, boyfriend, Tim Christopher, son of the wealthiest and most important family in town.  Tim was convicted, is still in prison, but Fiona is stuck.  Haunted by the tragedy and the wreckage it left in it's wake.  She's dating Jamie, a police officer, son of the former chief of police who worked Deb's case, and is working as a freelance journalist.  When she hears Idlewild Hall has been purchased and the new owner wants to reopen it as a girls boarding school, Fiona has the excuse she needs to start digging.  Naturally, she unearths a whole lot of secrets.

In 1950 Idlewild Hall was a boarding school for families to dump off their cast-off girls.  Girls who were trouble.  Girls who were "bad."  Four such girls are roommates, become friends, and all of them witness things they can't explain.  There's a ghost at Idlewild Hall, Mary Hand - who shows you things that you can't unsee.  Who confronts you with your greatest fears, your darkest secrets.  They all see her and one day one of the band of four disappears...without a trace.

This is a time slip novel, moving back and forth between the 1950 story and the 2014 story - St. James taking two different threads and expertly weaving them together.  I'll admit to some reluctance when I heard that St. James was leaving her 1920s English settings behind to move to 1950s Vermont, but that uneasiness was quickly replaced with the uneasy feeling this book's atmosphere evokes.  Folks, it's creepy.  Not just the ghost stuff, but the secrets.  Fiona's psyche.  The truth that's lying just below the surface that eventually bubbles up and boils over.  It's riveting and page-turning and I waffled between savoring every delicious word, prolonging my reading pleasure and guzzling it like a college student whipping out a beer bong.

Usually in time slip stories there's one story line thread the reader is drawn to over the other, which was not my case here.  I loved the 1950 girls - the girls nobody wanted, the girls everybody underestimated, the girls who ultimately end up saving themselves and finding their own brand of justice.  In the 2014 story I was drawn to Fiona's emotional turmoil, her relationship with Jamie haunted by ghosts, and her persistent digging into the secrets hidden at Idlewild.

All of St. James' books thus far feature what one would classify as "romantic elements."  That's certainly the case here, given the Fiona/Jamie relationship, but I will say of all her books this one probably is the lightest in the romance department.  This isn't a criticism from me, but a heads-up to readers who were drawn to some of her earlier books where the romantic arc played a bit more of a prominent factor.

If you're already a St. James fan, this is a great book.  I loved it.  I'm jealous of all of you who now get to read it for the first time.  If you enjoy Gothics and are looking for a creepy good mystery with a light touch on the paranormal woo-woo?  This is it.  St. James' monsters in this book feature the unknown supernatural but also the very real, flesh-and-blood terror that only living mankind seems capable of inflicting.  Don't miss it.

Final Grade = A

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