I am not a fan of horror, but I'm a big fan of old-fashioned ghost stories, when read in broad daylight. I've been a big fan of Simone St. James' ghost stories since I first found The Haunting of Maddy Claire, the first of ... five?... historical ghost stories. She branched off in a new direction with The Broken Girls, going with a dual time-line plot, which I read hesitantly, but enjoyed thoroughly. The Sun Down Motel is another such book: a dual time-line mystery firmly rooted around a haunted place, this time a hotel that was pretty much doomed before it ever opened its doors.
I'm still a fan of St. James - I think this was a riveting read, and I devoured it in 2 sittings (daylight hours, all of them), but it wasn't as good as some of her others for two reasons, both purely subjective. The first was the heavy handedness of the message: that women have always been, and sadly will always be, to some extent, vulnerable and expendable. This is as unavoidable a fact as it is an inexcusable one, but more subtle writing would have had more powerful an impact. Instead, there were times - just a few - that I felt like I was the choir and I was being preached at. This wasn't a massive issue; it was just enough to pull me out of my head and the story a time or two.
The second reason is almost silly: the ghosts. They were almost exactly my right level of scary, but, and it took me some time to figure this out, they didn't have quite the effect on me as the ghosts in her previous books, because they never really focused on the main characters. These hauntings were almost the remnant-kind: they were there acting in an endless loop, whether anyone witnessed or not, although there was a trigger. The main ghost communicated with the historical time-line mc, but only once without being pushed into it by Viv. The other ghosts communicated with the present day mc, Carly, but benignly. They were spooky, absolutely, but at a remove, so that they fell just short of spine-tingling.
And I guess, as I write this I was left unsatisfied by Nick's story; it felt like it should be going somewhere and it didn't. I'm also disappointed that there was never an explanation for the present-day entry in the guest book of one James March who registered the day Carly and Nick had their first real experience with the Sun Down Motel. That was a BIG little thing to leave hanging with no follow up.
But overall, it was a good story; I liked that both Viv and Carly had solid friendships in their timelines; I liked that Nick was her support from pretty much page 1, and I liked the investigatory process of the mystery plot, even if I thought Viv was a reckless idiot. The story sucked me in, and I remain a solid fan of St. James' books.
I write because I love to. Ask me what I’d like to do today and I’d say write. Sit down, by myself, and write. Sure, I like to do other things as well, but it’s one of my top three.
Still, some time’s it’s lonely being an indie author. It’s also frustrating – a lot. But every once in awhile, quite unexpectedly and without warning, something remarkable happens.
For example, this review by Thomas Dalcolle of my novel Local Rag. When I read it, I thought, is he describing something I wrote? Yes. He is. I wrote this! Though I must admit, I don’t remember it being quite as good he indicates.
What makes this most satisfying is, Thomas Dalcolle got it. In fact, he read more into my story than I intended, but that’s the thing about fiction, it can mean different things to different readers.
Here’s Thomas Dalcolle’s take on my novel, Local Rag. REVIEW OF LOCAL RAG by Thomas Dalcolle
HEADLINE; A local rag challenges the powerful; corpses start piling. Five well deserved stars.
After the index, the book displays a famous quote about truth and opinions from Marcus Aurelius—stoic philosopher and Roman emperor of the second century AD—, not quite a John Doe. But Jim Mitchell, journalist owner of a local rag in Vancouver, carries a very different creed. He believes in the presence and relevance of truth and is fully committed to the deontology of news journalism. Check the facts before publishing, then tell the truth without warping it anyhow.
The existence of a unique, accessible truth is here an unquestionable axiom. Moreover, “Jim considered unbiased, in-depth news coverage essential in a functioning democracy.” Which, depending on the definition of democracy, may contradict the premises. To his bad luck, Jim must soon realize that the mission of bringing all that irksome theory to reality seriously conflicts with the laws of profit, and with the legitimate aspiration to an ordinary, happy life.
In a particular way if this comprises a marriage with a sexy, rich, vain woman, daughter to a billionaire—owner of a giant multimedia company—and an interiors decorator driving a Porsche Boxster. But this is nothing, just a detail in the indecipherable, garbled puzzle of Jim’s life.
Jim is part of a trio of close friends, a sort of childhood soulmates club. The other two members are Frances, daughter to Chinese immigrants, and Tony from an Italian family. Jim, on his turn, though a native Canadian, had to bear another even bitter stigma, as the son of an alcohol-addicted father, and grown-up in dire poverty. The three friends, marginal individuals in the community of schoolboys, almost outcasts, help each other to overcome their condition of social seclusion.
Growing up, they conceive the dream of reforming the society into a more accessible and inclusive one. In their ideal society, everybody, not only the natives and the millionaires, may aspire to a political career and even become a leader.
At the time of the facts, Frances, the inspirational soul and moral guide to the group, is a successful lawyer and is supporting Tony—already a town’s counselor—in his electoral campaign for the post of Mayor.
The story goes that Frances, despite the friendship and loyalty to Tony has turned to a secret intimate relationship—Tony is already married—investigates his campaign supporters and discovers wrongdoing. Frances collects evidence and calls on Jim, in the hope he may pressure Tony to take distance from his principal supporter, a notable member of the local Indian community. The man, called Brar, behind the mask of a successful entrepreneur, is a real thug involved in fraudulent real estate projects, international drug smuggling, as well as human trafficking.
In a confrontation that goes physical, Tony tells Jim plainly that Brar is the only one who can grant him enough preferences to win the Mayoralty race, and that he doesn’t mean to drop his dream of a life. He’s ready to prosecute it whatever it may cost, with genuine Machiavelli's tactics. The premises for the frontal clash are set up. Jim, covertly sustained by Frances, threatens Tony to publish the evidence of Brar’s wrongdoings on his local magazine and to expose the advantages that the thug plans to gather from Tony’s election to Mayor.
After that, the killing begins. First, a witness of Brar’s drug smuggling disappears and is then found dead on the city river’s banks. Then the same Frances, who holds an affidavit from the murdered witness, disappears from her flat, which appears as the theater of a butchery. Jim is sure that Tony has personally killed Fran. There are clues and circumstantial evidence in that direction, even though no conclusive proof. To make things worse, Frances’ body, as well as the incriminating affidavit, are nowhere to be found.
Jim swears he won’t let Tony go away with what he’s done. He’ll use his only weapon, his local rag, putting himself on the line of fire. I won't say more to avoid spoilers. I only add that, in the end, Local Rag should appear to the careful reader much more than a well-designed, masterly written, and realistic murder mystery.
Local Rag is, in my opinion, a philosophical parable on the ultimate meaning of truth in our earthly lives. The last pages will clarify the individual relevance of the initial Aurelian quote in this story. By the way, the closing image of the book is a powerful visual allegory about where humanity as a whole is heading fast, if not for a sharp change of route. Just don't jump to the end of the book to decipher these allusions. You'd remain baffled. The only way is to follow the characters all along their troubling adventure.
LOCAL RAG is available from Amazon. Visit
I will never not love Vish Puri. These are the mysteries I read when I just want to chuckle, relax my mind, and forget about all the crap that’s going on in the world today. Vish Puri never disappoints. His usual cast of vagabond associate detectives are on hand in The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken, and of course, Mummy-ji has her own little investigatory adventure going on the side. Actually, we get to learn some of Mummy-ji’s backstory, and it’s not what you might expect—but it certainly goes a long way toward explaining why she’s so tough and fearless, and why she refuses to stay quiet and sit still in her dotage, or spend all her time at kitty parties like all the other mummy-ji’s. To my mind, this series is one of the very best cozy mysteries out there. I can’t get enough Vish Puri!