The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.
Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn’t right at the Sun Down, and before long she’s determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden…
(From the book blurb)
I loved this book! It is probably going to be one of my favourite reads for the year. I know it is only February, but this atmospheric thriller is that good.
This was my first book by Simone St.James, and the description was vague enough for me to miss that there might be a paranormal element in it. Scary as it was (I think the scene where Betty tells Viv to run is the best ghost scene I’ve ever read), there is so much more to this book.
There are two very well-balanced timelines.
In 1982 we meet Viv Delaney, a twenty year old young woman who wanted to leave home and do something with her life, something that would get her out of the oppressive atmosphere of her home town and overbearing demands for perfect behaviour from her newly divorced mother. Viv never makes it to New York as she gets stuck in a little town of Fell with a very creepy motel, The Sun Down Motel, and Viv happens to land the job of the night clerk in it. Smart girl as she is, Viv observes and notices not only the strange customers any motel of this kind is bound to have (drug dealers, prostitutes, travelling salesmen, people with secrets), but also strange smells, noises and paranormal occurences. We know from the beginning that something will make her dispppear, but what will it be?
In 2017, Carly Kirk, a student and a true crime buff, is mourning the death of her mother and is venturing on a little research trip. To Fell, Upstate New York. The place where her mother’s sister, Viv Delaney, vanished into thin air 35 years ago. Once she is there, she quickly finds a place to live with an odd but very friendly flatmate, and a job of the night clerk in The Sun Down Motel. The same job her Aunt Viv held. Carly starts investigating and discovers that around the same time Viv disappeared several young women were murdered. Was her Aunt Viv another victim of the same serial killer? and did she see and hear the same strange things Carly notices around the motel? Could it be haunted?
The voices of Viv and Carly were distinct, equally well-written and engaging. Viv’s reality was very different. Not only because there was no Internet or DNA databases to facilitate police investigations. There was only one female police officer in Fell and she definitely faced a lot of discrimination.
“You think I did thirty years on nights by choice? That was the only shift they would give me. It was either take it or quit. And boy, were they mad when I worked it instead of quitting.
I was lucky to be able to get a credit card in those days without a husband.”
“If I ever get a time machine, remind me not to go back to the seventies”.
“It wasn’t so bad. We had Burt Reynolds and no Internet and no AIDS. We didn’t know how much fun we were having until the eighties came and it started go dry up.”
Viv’s flatmate Jenny dreams of getting married as a solution to all her life problems, while Viv… she is independent, smart, kind, loyal, determined, resourceful, and full of empathy towards those less fortunate than her. Once she figures out the mystery, she does everything possible to prevent the next crime from occuring. The link between the victims is so generic and unfair, that it sends chills down your spine.
Carly’s motivation to retrace Viv’s steps is different. Whether it is curiosity or desire for a closure that families of missing never get, Carly is as driven and determined as her aunt was.
There are some fantastic secondary characters as well- Alma Trent, Marnie, Heather, Nick- all unique and well-developed. Great portrayal of friendships and female solidarity as well as a slow-burn romance.
Intriguing, compelling, and eery, The Sun Down Motel by Simone St.James is a great thriller with paranormal elements. Highly recommended.
Thank you to Edelweiss and Berkley Publishing for the ARc provided in exchange for an honest opinion.