Autumn is my favorite season. While I miss the long days, I do love the excuse to curl up earlier in the evening with a good book. Summer here has lasted well into September in recent years and winter has started pretty early in November, making for a very short fall. This summer has been quite cool, so once the calendar rolled to September I jumped into seasonal reads with abandon.
Last year around this time, my book club read Simone St. James’ The Haunting of Maddy Clare. While I really liked the suspenseful ghost story featured, the main characters were really flat and not very appealing. Despite a lackluster first read, I decided to give St. James’ ghost stories another try with An Inquiry Into Love and Death. This time I was not disappointed.
Jillian Leigh is an usual woman for the 1920s- a dedicated female student at Oxford. One day she is called out of class and informed her estranged Uncle Toby, a professional ghost hunter, has died unexpectedly. Jillian is more put out than grief stricken when the solicitor explains she needs to go identify his body and collect his belongings from the small, coastal town of Rothewell.
Upon arrival, Jillian begins to suspect her uncle’s death might not have been an accidental fall and makes inquiries into what he was working on before he died. She is not the only one. Scotland Yard Inspector Drew Merriken is also in town with suspicions of his own about Toby’s death. Soon after her arrival, Jillian has reason to believe Walking John, the ghost her uncle was hunting, might be more than the imaginings of an eccentric man. Inspector Merriken most certainly thinks whatever is not right in Rothewell has a logical explanation. They both are about to be tested.
Lovecraft she is not, but St. James knows how to set a creepy scene and build suspense. More than a few times I stopped what I was doing and sat on edge waiting to find out what would happen next. The romance between Jillian and Drew had just the right amount of chemistry. It is part of the plot, but does not detract in any way from the eerie feeling of the tale. An Inquiry Into Love and Death is very much in the vein of dimestore novels, suspense movies, and radio programs (especially thanks to Rosalyn Landor’s narration) of the ’20s and ’30s- a ghost, buried secrets, and a budding romance. Pick this up for a fun, spooky read.