I do love a good ghost story but I’m not one for being scared into an early grave, unable to switch the lights off or get to sleep for fear of what lurks in the closet. As I grow older I definitely enjoy a good fright far more than I used to in my twenties or thirties. The Husband and I can now, on occasion, sit down together and watch a horror film, so long as it’s scary but not too scary. I know he’d like me to say that it’s just me who feels this way, but it’s not and I love him for it. I’m the type of person who can watch The Shining but would run a mile if you tried to make me watch Hereditary. All of this happens to mean that I’m also pretty much an ideal fit for any book written by Simone St.James. In fact she’s one of the few writers whose novels I will preorder in paperback as soon as I know a publishing date.
I’ve written previously about how I think St.James has a tried and tested formula that I love. However, in The Broken Girls St.James actually switches things up and it really works. Not only does this novel have a split timeline, alternating between the present day and the 1950s, but she has also moved the book across the Atlantic and set in in Vermont. Did I care? Did she in any way spoil my reading pleasure? Not one bit! St.James still pulled off a great, quick, fun, ghost story.
Fiona Sheridan has never recovered from the death of her sister, Deb, twenty years previously. Despite her ability to make a living as a journalist and dating a heartthrob of a cop, she has failed to really pull her life together, forever haunted by the image of her sister’s corpse lying in the middle of an abandoned playing field at a nearby deserted boarding school. Her sister’s boyfriend, Tim Christopher, has spent the last two decades in jail, accused of Deb’s murder.
Turn back the clock to the same school, Idlewild Hall, in the 1950s, when it was home to the kind of girls that no one wanted. Populated by the illegitimate, unwanted or troublemaking daughters of the reasonably well off, the school’s inhabitants have all heard tell of Mary Hand, a ghost who wanders the grounds of the school. The girls exchange evidence and stories on what they have seen or heard in the margins of their textbooks to warn future generations, with not one pupil doubting her existence.
St James weaves these two threads and more together beautifully, providing a totally compelling and in my mind plausible, ghost story. It’s just so fun to read these kind of tales as they twist and turn through both the real and supernatural worlds with plenty of surprises along the way.
Whether it’s this novel or any of her earlier books, you would be missing out to not read at least one Simone St.James story this year.