27th April, 2022

Review: The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James (Berkley)

The Book of Cold Cases was my first Simone St. James novel. I’d heard great things about her and this story sounded like the perfect fit for me. It started out well, but then somehow fell flat. First things first, though. So what is this book about?

In 1977, Claire Lake, Oregon, was shaken by the Lady Killer Murders: Two men, seemingly randomly, were murdered with the same gun, with strange notes left behind. Beth Greer was the perfect suspect--a rich, eccentric twenty-three-year-old woman, seen fleeing one of the crimes. But she was acquitted, and she retreated to the isolation of her mansion.

Oregon, 2017Shea Collins is a receptionist, but by night, she runs a true crime website, the Book of Cold Cases--a passion fueled by the attempted abduction she escaped as a child. When she meets Beth by chance, Shea asks her for an interview. To Shea's surprise, Beth says yes.

They meet regularly at Beth's mansion, though Shea is never comfortable there. Items move when she's not looking, and she could swear she's seen a girl outside the window. The allure of learning the truth about the case from the smart, charming Beth is too much to resist, but even as they grow closer, Shea senses something isn't right.

I can’t fully explain why St. James‘ novel didn’t work for me. There were a lot of elements that I liked. The passages that describe the haunted mansion, for example, were amazing and gave me plenty of goose bumps. I could almost see the house and the view from the cliff and feel the ominous presences within its walls. I also liked Beth’s character and the fact that you can’t see through her for most of the book.

However, there were also several aspects that bothered me: For one, I felt that – except for Shea and Beth – the rest of the cast were very flat characters that somehow drifted in and out of the plot but they never really “got a face” in my imagination. They just weren’t fully formed and seemed like puppets that were used whenever another human being was needed in the story (T.S. Eliot said in Prufrock: “I’m an attendant lord, one that will do to swell a scene or two” and that covers exactly what these minor characters felt like to me.)

Also, what really irked me were the numerous repetitions. We learn about Shea’s traumatic childhood experience over and over again. We continuously hear how Beth’s father died, etc. This is a problem that may have to do with the parallel storylines or it may be a conscious narrative device – whatever it is: it sometimes made me loath to actually continue with the story. And finally, there is the ending. I’m not going to post any spoilers but oh please! Really? I must admit I didn’t see this ending coming but not because it’s good but because I felt it was kind of lazy. And it was this that eventually contributed a lot to my not-so-great rating of The Book of Cold Cases. It’s a shame because the author writes wonderfully, her prose itself is great and so I was sad that the plotting seemed like it wasn’t completely thought through. I will definitely give the author another chance though and will pick up one of her other books.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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