Carly Kirk grew up in Illinois knowing that her aunt Vivian disappeared from Fell, NY in 1982. Viv’s disappearance is mysterious and does not sit right with Carly, who leaves college in 2017 against her family’s advice and travels to Fell, NY to investigate the family mystery. Carly finds an apartment and a job in Fell, at the exact places that her aunt stayed and worked. Carly soon realizes that Fell is not a typical small town. Time seems to have skipped over Fell-paper phone books, little to no internet access, 1970-era buildings, old-school police techniques. Once Carly starts working at the Sun Down Motel, where her aunt was working the night she disappeared, she discovers that there is a dark side to the motel. During her first shift, Carly experiences opening and closing hotel doors, mysterious cigarette smoke, lights that turn on and off by themselves, a young boy, and a mysterious lady in a dress. A traveling salesman using fake names to sign in at the motel grabs Carly’s curiosity and she starts to investigate him. Who is he and why does he use different names each time he signs in? Why does the old motel come to life whenever he checks in? Did Viv have the same experience at the motel as she did?
Carly becomes obsessed with her research, which leads her to several locals who help her solve her family mystery-the odd roommate Heather, fellow book-nerd Callum, rough-around-the-edges Nick, retired female Fell cop Alma, and defensive Marnie. Alma was a Fell Police officer during the time that Viv was in Fell and would have worked the case. Marnie was a freelance photographer with photos of 1982 Viv. Eventually, Carly becomes dangerously involved in the case, linking several unsolved murders in Fell together-Betty, Cathy, Victoria, Tracy, and possibly Viv. Now Carly must figure out if there is a serial killer responsible or are they all just coincidental. Are the ghosts trying to help Carly solve their murder-mysteries? Will the motel quiet down after the killer is brought to justice? Is Callum as nice as he appears or are her instincts trying to warn her? Why is Nick staying at the hotel?
This book grabbed me right from the start and I devoured it in a day. It starts in 1982 from Viv’s perspective, and the chapters alternate with Carly in 2017. Viv’s night at the motel in the first chapter is terrifying-doors opening and closing on their own, lights turning on and off, a female ghost slamming Viv’s car hood and telling her to run, a little boy running toward the empty pool. Simone St. James does an incredible job of describing the scenes throughout the story and developing interesting characters right away. As a reader, I could easily put myself in the story with Carly and Viv and experience the terror, sadness, and frustration that they feel at times. The storyline hooked me from the first chapter and I simply had to find out how Viv was managing at a haunted motel and more about the ghosts that inhabited it. Additionally, who killed Betty the teacher, Cathy the mother, Victoria the troubled teen, Tracy the choir girl? Best of all, the twists and turns of the story will take you right to the end where you will find out what happened to Aunt Viv.
There are several things that stuck under my skin though: 1. The author starts the story off by describing the “nothingness of Upstate New York”. I am from Upstate NY and that seems inaccurate-emptiness or remoteness may have worked better; 2. The storyline of the little boy at the motel is incomplete and has little to do with the plot of story. Not only could it be easily lifted out, but it is never revealed why he doesn’t feel good. Was he poisoned or just very upset; 3. I find it unlikely that the salesman’s wife would not have reported her husband missing, especially if he was the only income earner for their family, or that his employer didn’t expect him at work. With several unsolved murders, I think that the Fell PD would have investigated; 4. The author points out several times that Heather wears bulky tops. Why? What is she hiding?
Overall, this is a great book. It reads fast and has a terrific story with realistic characters. If you are looking for a mystery ghost story, this is the book for you! I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book; I am confident that you will not want to put it down, just like I could not.