Silence For the Dead by Simone St. James
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
After reading Ms. St. James first book, The Haunting of Maddy Clare, I made a note to keep reading her books. I was that impressed. I am quite fond of the early 20th Century period in a fictional setting, and this seems to be a particular area of interest for her as well. With this book, she focused on the troubled homefront of Post-WWI England, when veterans are coming back from the war damaged, both in body and in mind. Kitty Weekes is desperate for a job, desperate enough to take a job at Portis House, an isolated mental health facility for veterans. She lies about being a nurse, and she's caught in her lie, but the Matron allows her to keep the job anyway, as she's that desperate for another 'nurse'. Kitty soon realizes just how wrong things are at Portis House, but it's not like she has anywhere else to go.
"Silence for the Dead" is Gothic fiction, and the author does choose a fearsome setting in a haunted mental hospital. Unfortunately, this book lacked the degree of authentic and effective atmosphere that this story cried out for. I expected to be really unsettled by this story, considering its setting in an asylum with a troubled history as a family home whose family disappeared under decidedly strange circumstances. It seems to suggest some very powerful emotions of fear of isolation, abandonment and entrapment. However, I felt that things just didn't come together very well. I thought that some unsettling events that occur in the house would be explained or tie more strongly into the story and origin of the haunting, but they weren't in a satisfactory way. Don't get me wrong. There were some parts that were quite eerie. However, I think that this story could have been a lot more frightening than it was, considering the subject matter.
One of the things I liked most about this novel was the authentic characters, most of whom are veterans who suffer from profound mental illness as a result of the horrors of the war. It was quite sad how they were viewed by the public and their families as a whole. As cowards in that they were emotionally and mentally affected by the events occurring on the Front. Only a veteran can truly attest to the statement "War is Hell," and one would think that their loved ones would respect that they had survived and came home, even if they were tormented by their experiences. It was a slap in the face at how some of this men were treated, as if their surviving the war was an affront, as opposed to dying as "heroes". This aspect of the book spoke strongly to me, and gave me a lot to think about, as we still deal with veterans and how their lives are profoundly impacted by their war experiences. It's a good reminder to me to show sensitivity and to pray for their healing and restoration from their wounds.
This story has a strong romantic element that I did appreciate, although it did seem kind of crammed into the story around the Gothic and paranormal suspense elements. I really liked Jack and Kitty both. They were strong characters who had both suffered and understood what rejection and isolation was. In Kitty's case, she was very wise beyond her young years, and carried her own set of battle scars. She actually keeps my interest the most and remains a rootable character throughout this novel. I do have to say that the veterans did grow on me and I hoped for their well-being over the course of the novel.
I wish I liked this book more than I did, quite simply. For me, it failed to attain the potential the setting and story seems to promise. However, it was a good book, and I certainly did appreciate Kitty and Jack, and the setting and time period. For what it's worth, I think this would make a good movie.
Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.
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