Did I mention I love spooky reads in autumn? After listening to An Inquiry Into Love and Death, I knew it was foolish to believe I wouldn’t listen to another book by Simone St. James before Halloween this year. One night while working on some data entry, I gave into the urge and downloaded Silence for the Dead to make it a little more interesting.
Like St. James’ other novels, Silence for the Dead takes place in post-WWI England. At the start I wasn’t sure what to think of the narration for this one. Mary Jane Wells narrates it with a rather “common” accent, which fits the main character, Kitty Weekes. It is a departure from the other narrations since they usually featured women with some higher education. In the end though, I think it came down to the fact I wasn’t really sure I liked Kitty.
From the start, Kitty presents herself (the book is first person narration) as a tough girl who has exhausted all her options for work in London and is now on her way to Portis House, a remote convalescence home, for an open nursing position. After a rough interview, she takes the job, but constantly seems rankled by everyone and everything. Despite the harrowing working conditions, her deep anger and distrust was so grating, I almost couldn’t feel sympathy for her.
The home is a private hospital for shell shocked soldiers of the Great War. They range from men with violent rages to seemingly normal guys who are just sensitive to noise and surprise. World War I has been the setting for quite a few books and TV shows in recent years, but it really cannot be stressed enough how little sympathy there was for the “cowards” who came back from war unable to fully deal with the horror they witnessed. The men of Portis House are sent there by their families for this reason. Most of them are trying very hard, no matter what the circumstance, to maintain a normal facade in front of the staff in the hopes they will be given a good review and allowed, maybe, the chance to go home again. It soon becomes obvious to Kitty though, that some very unnatural, supernatural even, things are happening that are not the product of her patients’ disturbed minds. She tries to get the men to open up, but with so much on the line they are reluctant. When she meets a former war hero hidden away in a ward who also seems to be affected by whatever is agitated in the house, Kitty knows she must get to the heart of it.
As the story allows you to meet more of the residents, Kitty doesn’t really soften, but she does fit in more with her surroundings. These are damaged men and she is a damaged woman. In the end it is the “cowards” and the unemployable nurse who face off against pure evil. St. James has done a much better job with character development here than previous novels. These are not just angsty, lonely people who bond over their outsider status, they are people who work to understand one another and build trust. All the elements worked well together and I have to say it is my favorite of her books. Sure, it is not a perfect novel, but it is a great, suspenseful read for a person like me who will take a ghost story over a gruesome horror any day.