THE BOOK OF COLD CASES by Simone St. James
Only Simone St. James can strike exactly the right balance between a cold-case mystery and a ghost story, and I enjoyed both elements immensely. Shea Collins’ passion is crime, especially unsolved cases that still cast a shadow long after the media has lost interest. A medical receptionist by day, Shea spends her nights looking into unsolved murder cases on her true crime website “The Book of Cold Cases”. When she gets the opportunity to interview Beth Greer, the woman suspected of having committed Oregon’s infamous 1977 “Lady Killer Murders”, her excitement is hard to contain. Little does Shea know that the can of worms she is about to open will have far reaching consequences for both Beth as well as herself…
As is St James’ hallmark, her murder mystery was spiced with an old, haunted mansion and a very unforgiving ghost who does not take kindly to being disturbed. I loved the dynamics that developed between Beth and Shea and the way we slowly got to uncover each woman’s deepest secrets. I could never have predicted Beth’s!
The supernatural element added something unusual to this cold case mystery and set it apart from other crime novels on the market. It’s not easy striking just the right balance between reality and the otherworldly, but St James manages that just fine. Listening to the audio version with my noise cancelling headphones on made me become so engrossed in the story that I had goosebumps.
THE BOOK OF COLD CASES will appeal to readers who enjoy a solid murder mystery with a spicing of the otherworldly. There is a fair bit of ghostly activity going on here, so a little bit of suspension of disbelief is called for. I particularly enjoyed the haunted house setting, which St James does so well, and the time travel to the 1970’s. A perfect Halloween read!
GIRL IN ICE by Erica Ferencik
Ever since reading THE RIVER AT NIGHT, I have greedily devoured everything Erica Ferencik has written, and I was eagerly awaiting the publication of GIRL IN ICE. If you love a bleak, claustrophobic, remote setting, then it doesn’t get much better than this, because the author has chosen the Arctic Circle as the backdrop to her latest book.
Linguist Val Chesterfield is still mourning the tragic death of her scientist twin brother on a remote outpost in Greenland when she receives an intriguing invitation by her brother’s boss. A little girl has been found in the ice, and no one can understand her language. Would Val consider travelling to this remote place to see whether she can communicate with the child? Despite being terrified of travel, Val accepts, realising that this could be the opportunity to put some of her demons relating to her brother’s death to rest.
GIRL IN ICE turned out much darker than Ferencik’s previous books, offering a disquieting mix of genres, from mystery to suspense to speculative fiction with elements of horror that made my skin crawl. Aided by a claustrophobic setting and Val’s own demons, the story took on a decidedly sinister turn when it was disclosed that the little girl Val has travelled to see has been thawed out of the ice – alive. Whilst not exactly in the league of the zombie apocalypse, the hint at the “undead” and its implications, as well as other dystopian elements created a tense, foreboding setting that really got under my skin.
I just wish that I could have liked Val a bit more as a character. Whilst her anxieties and insecurities added an element of the unreliable character, I would have liked to see a strong lead tackling the sinister elements head-on, which may have added to the suspense rather then getting bogged down in Val’s thought processes. I am also finding that this trend of neurotic female characters who are medicating themselves is getting a bit tired. It reminded me of a novel I read earlier in the year, THE DARK (by Emma Haughton), with almost identical themes.
That said, the mystery of Sigrid and the remote setting kept me reading eagerly to find out the answers, and even though the ending was somewhat luke-warm, the overall reading experience was satisfying. Whilst this is not my favourite Ferencik book, it’s definitely worth grabbing when you’re in the mood for some armchair travel to a cold, remote and forbidding landscape that hides a sinister secret.
THE SILENT COMPANIONS by Laura Purcell
I’m not sure why I thought it would be a great idea to choose a spooky book for my weekend reading, because man, this story was bleak! True, it did deliver plenty of goosebumps on the spooky front, but I am struggling to find some sort of joy in life again after this hopeless, sad tale.
Twenty-five-year-old Elsie has narrowly escaped spinsterhood by marrying the handsome and enigmatic Rupert Bainbridge, only son and heir to a large country estate. Their life together is cruelly shattered by Rupert’s untimely (and extremely suspicious) death, seeing a pregnant Elsie travel to the country manor husbandless to take over the reigns of a resentful bunch of servants and villagers. As promised, the old mansion delivers all the haunted house tropes: a locked attic door hiding terrible secrets, an old nursery that comes to life only when Elsie enters, and a bunch of creepy wooden figurines termed the “silent companions”. After being haunted by these spectres, Elsie tries to find some answers in an old diary her cousin has unearthed in the attic, which may explain some of the bumps in the night. However, the house has not finished with Elsie yet …
I’m not quite sure how to rate this book. On one hand, it was deliciously spooky, with the silent companions popping up where you least expect them and making their menacing presence known. On the other hand, there were few rays of sunshine to be had, so take a good dose of anti-depressants before reading this one! Rupert is not the only one who bites the dust in this story, nor is his death the most gruesome of them all. And as for poor Elsie’s fate – well, I can’t give away any spoilers, but karma really has it in for this girl. I discovered that I like my spooks delivered with a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, or perhaps I am just feeling fragile?
All in all, THE SILENT COMPANIONS will deliver if you love a spooky old mansion that oozes menace and tension out of every window. It also covers two separate timelines that come together to explain most (if not all) of the sinister happenings on the estate. But the book is best not attempted when you’re feeling low, because there is little hope left for any of its characters. Just be warned … A spooky, desolate read with Gothic vibes for the not-so-faint at heart.