by Simone St. James
Set in 1922, this tale has a modern feel with the vengeful, assertive ghost of Maddy Clare at its center.
Sarah Piper is pulled from the brink of destitution when the temp agency she works for calls her to an interview at a coffee house with a gentleman named Alistair Gellis.
Despite her initial concerns about his intentions, Sarah finds Gellis intelligent, eloquent and completely at home in the bohemian Soho coffee house, where she herself feels out of place.
He tells her that he travels “to haunted places and tests the veracity of the claims. I use technology to document them, or debunk them, as the situation calls for. Then I compile all of my conclusions into book filled with citations and footnotes. As dry as I can make it, really.”
He is faced with a situation where he needs an intelligent, strong and unbiased woman to help him with a particularly challenging case that no one has ever investigated before: the haunting of Mrs. Clare’s barn by a servant girl named Maddy who hung herself there.
Maddy gets violent in the presence of men. As a result, Mrs. Clare will only allow him to study Maddy’s manifestations if a woman enters the barn.
Sarah has little choice but to accept. She’s utterly alone in London and two weeks behind in her rent. She’ll be on the street without an income. She’s also drawn to Gellis, a World War I veteran who walks with a limp. She’s even more drawn to his ruggedly handsome former comrade-in-arms and current assistant Matthew Ryder.
As Gellis’ work at the Clare barn unfolds, Sarah turns out to be unusually psychically atuned to Maddy and her manifestations.
This is no watery, wavy ghost rattling chains and bumping around in the night. Maddy is able to possess the mind of anyone in her presence and make them live their worst nightmares. She can even create different manifestations for different people at the same time.
To set Maddy free, the ghost hunters — Sarah, Gellis and Ryder — have to learn what happened to her before she appeared bedraggled, injured and mute at the Clare door and bring those who harmed her to justice.
This is a tasty ghost story that pays homage to the cliches of ghost stories without becoming one. This is a fine first novel from a writer you’re going to want to read more of. And it’s completely fitting for the #metoo era.