by Simone St. James
This is my second book in a row by Simone St. James, and when I finished it, I went and ordered pretty much her entire backlog. Because I’ve never come across another author who writes standalone horror-romance.
Horrance? Romror? I’ll work on that and get back to you.
I’ve written before about how I don’t typically read scary stories (because nightmares) but for some reason, I can binge-read St. James and still sleep like a baby. I think it’s because of that blend of spooky and swoony I mentioned before. Something about the romance aspect of her plots acts as a ballast against the horror, and it makes it easier to digest.
The Haunting of Maddy Clare is one of those books that seamlessly blends the old with the new. It pays homage to some of the blockbusters in the genre while adding new twists and elements that make it easily stand on its own. Set in England during the 1920s, at a time when women were gaining previously unmatched independence, it does a fantastic job of tackling gender roles even as it examines a violent haunting.
The main character, Sarah, is contacted by a temp agency to interview for an open position. With a ghost hunter. Debonair and charming, Alistair quickly convinces Sarah to come with him to the countryside to investigate his latest supernatural case. And it has to be Sarah who acts as his eyes and ears because bad things happen to the men who attempt contact with the ghostly Maddy.
I immediately thought, “Right, something terrible happened to Maddy Clare when she was alive to make her hate men so much that she wants to kill them even from beyond the grave.” I was definitely right, but I by no means guessed all the twists and turns this story has to offer. And just because Maddy allows women into her barn, it doesn’t mean she’s nice to them. The first time Alistair sent Sarah in there with Maddy, I was white-knuckling my kindle.
On that note, if you think Alistair is the love interest because of the aforementioned charm, sorry, he’s not. That role falls to his gruff assistant, Matthew. Both men are veterans of the first World War, and I thought the way St. James handled their injuries (both physical and mental) was very well done.
But the most impressive part of this book is the fact that the mystery and romance hold equal complexity and intensity. I had to know what happened next with the investigation into Maddy’s background just as much as I had to know what happened with Sarah and Matthew. It made this an incredibly compelling book, and it’s no wonder I finished it in one sitting on a snowy Saturday.
I loved watching Sarah blossom from someone who questioned herself and erred on the side of caution and silence into a woman with her own agency who stood up for herself and others. Matthew’s character arc was just as compelling, as was Maddy’s and even Alistair’s. This is just an all-around good book, and I very much recommend it to anyone looking for something a little bit spooky and a little bit swoony at the same time.