Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Review: The Broken Girls

By Jami Deise

When I was a kid, before I knew that a Bloody Mary was a great drink for Sunday brunch, I knew better than to chant her name three times before a mirror in a dark bathroom. And Bloody Mary wasn’t the only spooky story to haunt sleepovers and camping trips. There was that guy with the hook for a hand. The killers hiding behind paintings of people (they watched you through the eyeholes). The psycho hiding in the back seat of the car. And of course, the call coming from inside the house…

For The Broken Girls in Simone St. James’s latest gothic ghost story, though, the rhyme of Mary Hand is very real.

In a rural town in Vermont in 1950, four roommates bond as they try to survive Idlewild Hall, a boarding school for girls no one wants. They scare themselves with the story of Mary Hand, whose dead baby could be buried in the garden where nothing grows.

In 2014, Idlewild Hall has been abandoned for decades. But when a mysterious benefactor buys the compound, journalist Fiona Sheridan is intrigued. Twenty years ago, Fiona’s sister Deb was murdered, her body dumped in the road outside the old school. Even though Deb’s boyfriend was tried and convicted, Fiona always had her doubts. Could the history of the school…and doomed Mary Hand…have anything to do with her sister’s death?

The novel unfolds along two timelines: 1950, in which roommates Katie, Roberta, Sonia, and CeCe try to cope with their creepy school, and 2014, as Fiona digs deep into the school’s mysteries. The 1950 timeline features chapters from each girl’s point of view, which gets confusing at times. Fiona is aided by her journalist father as well as her boyfriend, Jamie, a cop about ten years younger than she is whose father was the police chief when Deb was murdered.

It’s an engrossing read, and moves along at a fast clip. There are several mysteries to be solved: Was there really a Mary Hand, and does she haunt Idlewild? Did one of the roommates really run away? Who really killed Deb? Who is the mysterious wealthy widow who has bought Idlewild, and what are her plans for the property?

St. James has does an exemplary job with setting as well. The rural Vermont town where the story takes place feels as abandoned as the school, but it’s a claustrophobic place where residents close ranks at the first sign of trouble.

The novel works well but for the ending. Not to give too much away, but mystery readers expect separate threads to tie together, and St. James does not deliver that experience. Still, the characters and setting engaging enough that while the ending is disappointing, the journey to get there is worthwhile.

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Simone St. James:

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