Last night I was forced to stay up far past my bedtime. It was a book’s fault, of course. The book was so good that I kept telling myself, “Just one more chapter” until there really was just one more chapter. Sadly, by the time I finished it was well past midnight. (How past midnight? I’ll never tell.)
Once again I am the innocent, sleepless victim of some very good fiction.
The book was An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James (which immediately sounds appropriately atmospheric and slightly creepy already, doesn’t it?) It is mostly a ghost story set in England during the 1920’s, but blending nicely with the whole haunted element is a decently executed murder mystery and a nice little romance. See? Something for everyone.
This novel hit all the right notes with me.
First, all the historical details felt true and accurate. The author just didn’t describe the clothes or households of the time period, but used her characters to embody the opinions and feelings of the era as well. The blossoming women’s movement in education, the troubled veterans of WWI returning home broken inside, the tiny beginnings of the modern industrial age are all present in this book.
The murder mystery felt nicely executed to me. It was simple with a few misdirections and a good deal of mounting tension. Nothing overly sophisticated or too convoluted. The suspense of the mystery intertwined nicely with the ghost story, each of them spiraling around the other, building up to a nice climax towards the end.
The love story was handled with a nice light touch. The author never forgot the real focus of her novel, so the romance doesn’t overwhelm the ghost story. This restraint, coupled with some strong sexual tension (and let’s be frank, a brief, but solid love scene), felt very turn of the century British to me, and made me love the book even more.
Finally, let’s talk about the ghost. He was one creepy son-of-a-gun (see how I use such literary terms?) with an equally freaky name: Walking John. Which sounds exactly like something a serial killer ghost should called.
The author wrote about the main character’s terror quite well. I will never, EVER, be able to peak outside a window at nighttime no matter what noise I hear. And when you get to the part when the dead and decomposed Walking John is crawling all over the house, trying to find a way inside? Well. You just call me and we’ll commiserate together at length.
All in all, I give An Inquiry into Love and Death four and a half stars for its excellent writing, its memorable characters, its spine tingling scariness, and its glorious sexual tension.