In her spare time, Shea maintains a website and blog called the Book of Cold Cases, looking into theories and evidence of unsolved crimes. She never expects to run into Beth Greer, the so-called “Lady Killer” of the 70s, acquitted of two murders, nor does she expect Beth to agree to an interview. Shea is wary of the Greer house, not only Beth’s home but the site of the home invasion murder of Beth’s father years before the Lady Killer case. Neither Beth nor the house is particularly welcoming, and before long, Shea is questioning her sanity as taps turn themselves on, objects move to new locations, and there’s a whisper on her phone’s interview recording that wasn’t audible in person.
Mystery, (fictional) true crime, ghosts, psychological warfare, gender issues, and light romance. Really, you can’t get any more me if you tried. This book was very similar in feeling to The Sun Down Motel by St James, which was my favorite of the two I’ve read by her in the past. The creep factor was through the roof, and brought me not only chills during the read, but horror-based nightmares when I wasn’t smart enough to put the book away for my before-bed read! It was that kind of delicious.
And beyond the excellent atmospheric writing, St James explored some really heavy topics. Shea suffers from severe PTSD and survivor’s guilt due to an incident in her childhood. Beth’s childhood was the unpleasant combo of wealth, neglect, and her parents’ horrific marriage. There’s discussion of genre roles in the 50s-70s, and how women were limited, and how they’re treated by cops and media alike when they’re accused of major crime. There’s never any overt discussion, nothing heavy-handed, but this is a great look at the way women have been viewed, treated, and limited in our society, and how that changed over the decades.
I love the setup of the book. The story is split into two parts. In the first, the mystery is open-ended, but early in the second part, the answers are mostly revealed to the reader – if not the characters. I’m a big fan of the “mystery is for the characters rather than the reader” style, so this completely worked for me. I also liked the interweaving of the historical story chapters with the modern day chapters. And best of all, I like that the supernatural elements of the book weren’t just written off or explained away. That’s probably my favorite thing about the three books I’ve read from St James. The supernatural is just accepted as a thing that is, rather than a thing that must be a trick, hallucination, or misunderstood phenomena. It’s not magical realism, because the supernatural bit is still out of the ordinary and terrifying for the characters, but it’s never brushed aside as not-supernatural, either. Very few authors write that way, so I really enjoy the books I come across that fit into this narrow framework!