|The Sun Down Motel / Simone St James|
NY: Berkley, c2020
Starting in Fell, NY in 1982, we meet Vivian Delaney, who ended up in Fell on her way to NY City after running away from home. She stumbles upon a job as night clerk at the new but not so salubrious Sun Down Motel. Strange things happen in the night; doors open and close, figures appear and disappear, she smells cigarettes when there is no-one there. And even more terrifying are the real people, the creeps, who check in in the night. Then one night, Vivian disappears.
Flash forward 35 years. Carly Kirk, 20 year old niece of Vivian Delaney, has been haunted by her aunt's unsolved disappearance her whole life. Her mother, who wouldn't talk about it, has just died of cancer, and in her unsettled state, Carly decides to ditch college, go to Fell, and investigate Vivian's disappearance herself.
Here is where all the true crime comes in. Carly is a follower of true crime, and the roommate she finds in Fell is similarly interested. Together they begin to pick apart the story of Viv's life in Fell and her disappearance. It felt quite realistic in the sense that the tiny local papers from Fell in the 80s are not digitized and so Carly has to go to the media room in the tiny little local library and do some hands-on research. While she's there she meets a young man about her age who is very interested in history, and helps her out. Slowly, over a few encounters, she starts to feel that there is something slightly off about him.
While Carly uncovers small facts and tries to piece them together, she also takes the same job that Viv held -- night clerk at the Sun Down Motel. The son of the original owners still owns it, though as he tells her, he tries to be there as little as possible. Carly starts to experience some of the same weirdness as Viv had, quite scary paranormal events at times.
As Carly finds something out, the chapters flip back to Viv so that we are getting the story from her side. I found Viv's story more compelling than the present day but they did mesh pretty well, and the way the story unfolded was very suspenseful.
When the stories finally come togehter at the end, it felt a bit anticlimactic. The final 'showdown' didn't have much emotional heft considering all that came before it. And the decision made about a 35 year old murder seems a bit ridiculous to me. So while the very last bit of the ending didn't really do it for me, the climax of the search for Viv's story and the end of the Sun Down Motel was spectacular. This was an unexpectedly good read that has really stuck with me. Definitely a great read for sunny afternoons -- I couldn't read it at bedtime, fair warning ;)