The Haunting of Maddy Clare / Simone St James
New York: New American Library, c2012.
This was a deliciously ghostly and romantic tale from a new-to-me Canadian author. It's set during the interwar years in England, and it is both chilling and thrilling!
As the book opens, we meet Sarah Piper, a lonely orphan in London, working for a temp agency and eking out her living. She lives in a tatty old boarding house and has a very restricted life. Then she gets a call from her agency: an author needs some temporary help and they want to assign the job to her. Although it's last minute, her rent is due so she accepts.
She heads off to meet Alistair Gellis only to discover that he is an unusual type of author: he writes factual books about ghosts and hauntings. He needs her not for secretarial assistance but because his latest ghost is said to make contact only with women.
Sarah's life changes utterly as she heads for the country with this charming, wealthy young man, ready to investigate ghostly rumours and add a little excitement to her routine. Alas, the ghost is only too real, and is sticking around thanks to a thirst for vengeance... fortunately, Gellis' usual assistant, Matthew Ryder, another young ex-soldier (but one who is manly, rough and solidly working class) turns up in time to become Sarah's protector and love interest.
How and why the ghost haunts her old home, and what this trio does to document her presence and help her move on, brings the chills to the tale. It's genuinely scary in parts, with the ghost's malevolence and powerful influence terrifying many of the characters. The reason why the ghost is haunting this house is slowly revealed, as a horrifying experience that gives power to her violent haunting.
But the relationship between Sarah and Matthew adds some thrills...be warned this is a Gothic romance, and a modern one, with romance and lust making themselves known! There are secrets, mysteries, and enough unknowns to spook you and keep you reading. And the conclusion is a great payoff. But the level of writing and the characterizations make this special. I really enjoyed it, reading it all in one go, appreciating the details of the 1920 era setting. Not only the descriptions of clothes, or the after-effects of the war, but also the assumptions and restrictions taken for granted for women and for different classes of people. St James really captures the feeling of this era and yet makes it feel contemporary, not quaint.
It's a wonderful ghostly tale to read at this R.I.P. time of year. I'll be reading her second book as soon as I can!