You know I love a good ghost story. As a matter of fact I have a 'ghost story' tag since I read enough of them and like to look back and keep my reads organized. Simone St. James is one of my dependable authors. I will pick up anything she has written and feel fairly assured I'll like whatever story she decides to tell. I've read all her books now, beginning with The Haunting of Maddy Clare, and then last year's An Inquiry into Love and Death which I read earlier in the spring. St. James publishes a new novel each year, and now that I've finished Silence for the Dead, I have a little wait ahead of me until the next. Had I planned better I might have saved it for my RIP reading, but I imagine I will have no trouble coming up with a respectable list of books to dive into next month (yes, am already planning ahead and thinking about possible reads).
I should qualify a few things about Simone St. James's ghost stories. If you felt like categorizing her books you might call them paranormal romances (a label I don't particularly like to be honest). Somehow that seems a mouthful and I am not always happy to slap labels on books and pigeonholing them. Better to just say St. James tells a good story. There are things you can expect with her novels, though. They, so far, have been set in England (though St. James is Canadian). The heroine is usually a younger woman who is either well-educated, or 'street smart'. Most often she is pretty fearless and shows a good bit of moxie. The period St. James places her stories has been post-WWI. Considering what Europe just went through it isn't surprising that there are a lot of unsettled individuals around. If they see ghosts it is not such a strange thing perhaps.
With most ghost stories I think the reader needs to go into it with an open mind and maybe suspend belief just a little. It's hard to pull off a really scary ghost story, and while there are certainly chilling elements to her books, I think of Simone St. James's stories as being rather more gentle, suspenseful reads than overly frightening. Of the three I think Silence for the Dead is the darkest of the lot. This is less so due to the ghostly elements than the situation Kitty Weekes finds herself in--both as a nurse in a remote hospital and the life she led previously that sent her off there with no qualifications and only an instinct for survival.
Portis House. Many grand homes have been requisitioned by governments or used as hospitals or convalescent homes due to wars. The thing about Portis House is that it is so out of the way. It sits on the coast and can be approached only by a bridge and on a stormy day it's with your life in your hands that you cross it. The war is over and now it is simply a place for shell-shocked soldiers who need extra care, calm and privacy.
So we have a grand house. A lonely setting cut off from the rest of the world at times of bad weather. Men who were once soldiers and who have seen such horrific things they cannot function in the workaday world. You might even call them a little unbalanced. Into the mix make the house show signs of age and wear, so much so that only one wing is open and the rest is closed and off limits to staff and patients. And then something extra. Give the story a little spice. The house once belonged to a family of Swiss immigrants who were often mistaken for German. The enemy during the war. How is it possible, but they seem to have simply vanished. There is a feeling of dread to the house and it seems to affect the residents, already mad some of them. So, a ghost story with a 'haunted' house.
And now enter Kitty Weekes. Kitty doesn't really belong there, but she's running from something or someone. The farther she can run the better, and Portis House is about as out of the way as anyone can get. She has stolen papers in order to procure the position and pass herself off as a nurse and she walks a fine line between getting caught and attempting to convince the others she can handle her duties. Since this is more a convalescent home than a trauma center she can just barely make believe. She's secretive and the tiniest bit bristly, but this is her last chance at making some sort of a life for herself. She has nothing and no one and nothing to lose.
But Portis House has its own secrets, too. Not just the family no one seems to know anything about. There is the question of Patient Sixteen. He's a special case and only staff with the correct clearance can enter his room from which he rarely leaves. The two cross paths and the inevitable will happen. In each their own way, both are damaged souls. But under those tough outer shells and within those damaged spirits each just wants their share of happiness and contentment. And as Portis House extends its dread over patients and staff, Kitty knows something must happen. They must get away before they lose their chance.
While I think An Inquiry into Love and Death is my favorite book so far, Silence for the Dead was an entertainingly atmospheric read. Maybe it's because of the setting, but it felt almost too claustrophobic to me. Reading it I felt closed in and wanted the story to move elsewhere. Of course it makes for a suspenseful read but it made me feel a little on the fidgety side at times, too. But all in all still a good read. I'm already, however, looking forward to Simone St. James's forthcoming book, The Other Side of Midnight which includes murder, séances and psychics. A very appealing story for me!