I’ve read all of Simone St. James’ books and have either really liked or loved all of them. Her latest offering, The Book of Cold Cases, falls somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.
Shea Collins’ recent divorce has left her both at loose ends and strangely unchanged. At loose ends because she now has no plus-one, and suddenly has more free time. Unchanged because she remains a receptionist at the same doctor’s office she worked at previously, still lives in Claire Lake, Oregon and continues to spend her evenings working on her true crime blog, The Book of Cold Cases. She doesn’t miss her husband. It’s almost like getting divorced didn’t actually revise anything but her address.
One morning while at work she recognizes a patient. Shea can’t quite place where she knows the woman from and initially wonders if the lady is a celebrity - until Shea reads the name on the file, Beth Greer. Wealthy heiress Beth is famous in the small town of Claire Lake and among true crime afficiandos everywhere because in 1977, she was arrested for the Lady Killer serial murders: Three men, one gun, no evidence. Ballistics tied a single weapon to the shootings of three completely unrelated guys but the police had no other proof as to who committed the crimes. Eyewitness testimony vaguely placed Beth at the last of the crime scenes, identifying someone with her dark red hair in the vicinity when the event took place. Public tensions were running high and in an effort to appease his constituents, the D.A. took an extremely flimsy case to court. Beth’s lawyer made mincemeat of what little the prosecutor had, Beth was acquitted and spent the next forty years in near isolation at her mansion in the ritzy part of town. The real culprit has never been found - or Beth got away with murder. No one but Beth really knows the truth.
Shea has always been enthralled by the case. When Beth leaves the office, Shea follows her, hoping to get an interview. Beth catches on pretty quickly to the fact that she is being tailed and confronts her young stalker. Shea offers a heartfelt, honest explanation about her fascination with Beth and, bemused by her clumsy sincerity , Beth agrees to be interviewed for Shea’s blog. Shea has to meet her at her home though; Beth refuses to speak anywhere else.
Shea eagerly arrives for the interview but it isn’t long before she realizes that someone - or rather something - else is in that house with them. It turns on the water spigots while Shea is in the bathroom and the faucet runs pink and red with blood. It opens the cabinets while Shea is in the kitchen pouring a drink for Beth, an invisible presence stomping about the room which she can hear, watch the actions of (opening and closing doors) but not see. It makes its presence physically known, interacting with Shea consistently as Shea tries to meet with Beth. For Shea, the question is, is Beth somehow orchestrating the “conjuring” through elaborate tricks? Or does Beth live in a genuine haunted house? And if so, just who is doing the haunting?
Ms. St. James’ books are compulsively readable. Like Edgar Allen Poe, the author has a gift for creating a gorgeously written, chilling, atmospheric thriller that somehow makes the sinister enthralling rather than creepy. Her prose is smooth and her characters are always fascinating.
St. James is skilled at using trending tropes and creating something fresh from them. Beth is typical of her character-type in the current market in that she is neither wholly good nor totally evil but she is unique in both her etting and her circumstances. Like many of today’s thriller progagonists, she is a charming, engimatic woman with a complicated histor,y but unlike them, she has an innocence and guilelessness about her that are surprising. It is hard to tell whether she is the consummate manipulator or a hapless victim. I found her tale - and the journey of discovering just what role Beth plays in it all - riveting.
Shea is a wonderful, brave, caring, decent young woman who has a complicated history of her own. We learn early in the book that she experienced a violent crime at a very young age and how that has impacted her. I found myself thoroughly invested in seeing Shea solve this mystery, heal from her past and find love.
Michael De Vos is the private investigator Shea uses to help her in her research for the blog. The two get along well over the phone but have never met. That changes when Shea takes on the Beth Greer case and it is clear from the start that Michael is Shea’s perfect match. Both of them are nerdy murderinos, people who love research and aren’t afraid to face the dark side of life but who prefer quiet and solitude in their leisure moments. Ms. St. James does a fantastic job of making Michael a secondary character, on the periphery of the action between her two female leads, but also an important part of the plot and a viable love interest for Shea.
All of the secondary characters here are fantastic - from the cop who first worked on the Lady Killer Case to the lawyer who defended Beth, they are fleshed out, three dimensional beings who fit perfectly into the tale.
My only quibble with the story lies with the ghost. Fans of the author know her books always contain paranormal elements - in this case, a spectre from Beth’s past wreaking havoc in her present. Most of the time such apparitions have a limit to their powers, whether that limit is to a specific location or simply a check on how much they can do in the physical realm. This being seemed almost limitless and as a result, rather than lending an eerie ambience to the narrative it began to stretch my disbelief to the breaking point.
That negative note aside, this is still a darn good yarn. I would recommend The Book of Cold Cases to fans of the author and to anyone who enjoys a bit of horror mixed with their thriller.
Buy it at Amazon, Audible or your local independent retailer
Recent Comments …
Finished earlier today. More of a B for me. Agree that there was a lot of filler in this one…
It’s SO bad, and that simple excerpt absolutely brings back what an awful hero Harry is.
Hope you enjoy!
I’m glad you were!
That is a great suggestion! I may just do so, since Caz says that WFTF hasn’t really changed all that…
Thanks for this review — I got the book from my library and was thoroughly charmed!