My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the first book I’ve read by Simone St. James and I was not disappointed. I normally buy my print books off of the bargain table, but was drawn to this cover. The blurb on the back closed the deal and I broke down and got the book. Rather than put it in my to-read pile, I moved it up to the top and am glad I did. I enjoyed the book. It’s a mystery, but not really a cozy. It’s set in the 1920’s, when apparently the flappers were in full swing (this book made me curious about that culture) and when psychics and mediums were apparently in high demand, the result of the war.
The story is not just about Ellie Winter, but also Gloria Sutter, who dies before we ever meet her. We get to know her through Ellie’s reminiscences. In fact, a good part of this story is told through Ellie’s memories (flashbacks, kind of). Born with a true gift, passed on from her mother, her’s was not an easy life. Almost one of isolation. Gloria, whom she met while traveling, was pretty much her only friend and her entrée into the flapper culture. Which went well until her mother found out and then it just ended. I felt kind of sad for Ellie - her mother needed her help with her business as The Fantastique, but it kept Ellie from establishing her life. Then when she passed away, Ellie was left pretty much alone.
Gloria dies, but before she does she leaves a note for her sole remaining brother, George, (the others were killed in the war), to seek Ellie Winter and have her “find” Gloria. Ellie is hesitant, but also curious. Nothing about Gloria’s last week or last seance make sense and apparently Gloria knew something could go wrong. So, Ellie agrees to help George. In the process, she reconnects with James Hawley, who works for the New Society for the Furtherance of Psychical Research, with the aim of basically debunking psychics. Their past interactions had been hurtful to Ellie, who was attracted to him. James is dealing with his own demons, but they join forces to follow the last steps of Gloria. I liked the relationship between Ellie and James and was glad they were brought together through this “case.”
This story had many elements that I enjoyed - psychics, ghosts (not what you think of though when you think ghosts), the culture of 1920’s London - and a mystery that I didn’t see the resolution to at all. The story wraps up nicely, though I found myself wanting more and kind of sorry that my time with Ellie was up. In some ways it felt incomplete, but I don’t think it was. I think it was more like we got to be a brief part of Ellie’s life and that’s it.
In looking at other titles by this author, I realized that Inspector Merriken was introduced in another book, which explains a few comments from him that alluded to something that was never explained. That book, An Inquiry into Love and Death, is now on my to-read list as well as her next book, Lost Among the Living, thanks to an excerpt in this book.
If you’re looking for a mystery that’s a little different, with paranormal elements, then this is the book. Highly recommended.
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