by Simone St. James
Publication Date: February 18, 2020
Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Something hasn’t been right at the roadside Sun Down Motel for a very long time, and Carly Kirk is about to find out why in this chilling new novel from the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.
Upstate New York, 1982. Viv Delaney wants to move to New York City, and to help pay for it she takes a job as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, New York. But something isnʼt right at the motel, something haunting and scary.
Upstate New York, 2017. Carly Kirk has never been able to let go of the story of her aunt Viv, who mysteriously disappeared from the Sun Down before she was born. She decides to move to Fell and visit the motel, where she quickly learns that nothing has changed since 1982. And she soon finds herself ensnared in the same mysteries that claimed her aunt.
I am not a fan of horror, but I’m a big fan of old-fashioned ghost stories, when read in broad daylight. I’ve been a big fan of Simone St. James’ ghost stories since I first found The Haunting of Maddy Claire, the first of … five?… historical ghost stories. She branched off in a new direction with The Broken Girls, going with a dual time-line plot, which I read hesitantly, but enjoyed thoroughly. The Sun Down Motel is another such book: a dual time-line mystery firmly rooted around a haunted place, this time a hotel that was pretty much doomed before it ever opened its doors.
I’m still a fan of St. James – I think this was a riveting read, and I devoured it in 2 sittings (daylight hours, all of them), but it wasn’t as good as some of her others for two reasons, both purely subjective. The first was the heavy handedness of the message: that women have always been, and sadly will always be, to some extent, vulnerable and expendable. This is as unavoidable a fact as it is an inexcusable one, but more subtle writing would have had more powerful an impact. Instead, there were times – just a few – that I felt like I was the choir and I was being preached at. This wasn’t a massive issue; it was just enough to pull me out of my head and the story a time or two.
The second reason is almost silly: the ghosts. They were almost exactly my right level of scary, but, and it took me some time to figure this out, they didn’t have quite the effect on me as the ghosts in her previous books, because they never really focused on the main characters. These hauntings were almost the remnant-kind: they were there acting in an endless loop, whether anyone witnessed or not, although there was a trigger. The main ghost communicated with the historical time-line mc, but only once without being pushed into it by Viv. The other ghosts communicated with the present day mc, Carly, but benignly. They were spooky, absolutely, but at a remove, so that they fell just short of spine-tingling.
And I guess, as I write this I was left unsatisfied by Nick’s story; it felt like it should be going somewhere and it didn’t. I’m also disappointed that there was never an explanation for the present-day entry in the guest book of one James March who registered the day Carly and Nick had their first real experience with the Sun Down Motel. That was a BIG little thing to leave hanging with no follow up.
But overall, it was a good story; I liked that both Viv and Carly had solid friendships in their timelines; I liked that Nick was her support from pretty much page 1, and I liked the investigatory process of the mystery plot, even if I thought Viv was a reckless idiot. The story sucked me in, and I remain a solid fan of St. James’ books.
Left to my own devices, I’d have read this book as soon as I got it back in August, but I held off because it was a perfect fit for Halloween Bingo’s Ghost Stories square.