The Broken Girls from Simone St. James is part mystery, part ghost story, with a little historical fiction thrown into the mix. It’s creepy but not terrifying. And it’s got enough twists to surprise you a time or three.

Fiona Sheridan is a sympathetic main character, whose older sister was murdered twenty years ago. The killer left her body near the local spooky spot. And despite his conviction, Fiona believes there’s more to the story. She just can’t let it go. And as a journalist, she finds ways to inject her own priorities into the work she’s assigned.

In a second story line, St. James introduces us to a group of teenagers attending a boarding school for “troubled” girls in the 1950s. Each of them has a back story, although we learn only what’s necessary to grasp their characters. In addition to the students, the school also houses a ghostly presence who torments everyone near her.

It’s a sufficiently frightful October book choice, especially since I’ve read almost no themed reads this year.

My conclusions

In a month with anniversaries of deceased loved ones, it’s fitting I should read a book about ghosts. For me, haunting is when everyday actions bring constant reminders of loved ones you can no longer see in the flesh. I wash the coffee pot and think of that little comment from my stepdad. The chair I’m sitting in reminds me of that time my dad said that thing about our spending habits. Seeing her picture on my dresser reminds me of our darling granddaughter, who died way too young.

St. James’ characters, especially Fiona, are haunted much like this. They put themselves in places where the memories of their loved ones are especially strong. This behavior has its advantages and disadvantages, and I think St. James portrays it with realism and intensity.

The mysteries at Idlewild are moderately complex, with a few tentacles pulling you into their arms. St. James creates characters with heart, and I wanted to know how they resolved their conflicting emotions. “Do I go down that dark wooded road in the dark, if it might solve this decades-long murder? Or is it just too risky?”

I would definitely read another mystery from Simone St. James. Her writing style is abundantly readable, and trips you like an old tree root that wants you to fall into its realm for a moment or two.