By Simone St. James
The years after the Great War are fertile ground for setting a ghost story. The world was filled with loss and dislocation. It’s a period that author Simone St. James returns to often.
In LOST AMONG THE LIVING, she combines a ghost story with a love story, a war story and a spy thriller.
When Jo Manders’s husband’s airplane goes down over enemy lines, no body is found nor is he on Red Cross lists of the injured or prisoners of war (POW). She finds herself neither wife nor widow.
Left virtually penniless, Jo accepts a job as a traveling companion with Alex Mander’s aunt, Dottie Forsyth. When they return to England, Dottie offers Jo a job as her assistant.
Dottie’s home, Wych Elm House, is shadowed by the death of her 15-year-old daughter, Fran, who jumped, fell or was pushed off the roof of the three-story house. Dottie wants no one to speak of it. But Jo catches glimpses of the girl’s ghost in the drawing room and inexplicably discovers Fran’s sketchbook in her bed. Drawings of the house show a shadow in third floor windows. At the back of the book, pages have been torn out.
Fran was troubled by bouts of mental illness. But the more Jo looks for answers, the more convinced she becomes that Fran wasn’t suicidal nor prone to risky behavior. She was murdered.
Jo also begins to realize how little she knew about Alex, who never discussed the house and mentioned Fran’s death in 1917 in a single short line in a letter. She’s stunned to learn that Alex came to Wych Elm House on leave soon after Fran’s death. He’d never mentioned it to her.
Unknowingly, Jo has put herself dead center of the murderer’s sights. The mysteries of Alex’s past are only just beginning to be revealed. The real question is: Can Jo stay safe long enough to solve the mystery?
Simone St. James excels here (as always) in creating a haunting atmosphere and interesting characters who aren’t always who they seem to be. But weaving together four genres — a ghost story, a romance, a war story and a mystery — might be a stretch to achieve without sacrificing one or another dimension of this story. It’s often hard to tell where to focus your attention as you read.
I enjoyed reading this book, but I enjoy other of St. James’ novels much more.
About the Author: Simone St. James
Simone St. James is a Toronto-based, best-selling author of contemporary and historical gothic mysteries. She won two RITA Awards from the Romance Writers of America and an Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada for her first novel, THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE.
Her most recent novels are THE SUN DOWN MOTEL and THE BROKEN GIRLS.
Before becoming a full-time novelist, Simone spent 20 years behind the scenes in television.