My rating: I’d go there again! (4/5)
It’s 1919, the Great War is over, but the battle continues on for those that were scarred, both mentally and physically from the battles. Like St. James’ previous novels, post-war life is tackled; however, with Silence for the Dead, the theme of mental illness and PSTD takes the forefront.
Kitty Weeks is a young woman on the run from a painful past. She thinks she has finally found a relatively safe situation as a nurse at Portis House, a far away asylum for former soldiers broken from their time in the war. The problem is Kitty is no nurse, and there are strange happenings at Portis House, a large home that was seemly abandoned by its former owners.
Kitty is slowly drawn to the mystery of the disappearance of the former owners of Portis House as she gets to know her patients, and learns that they all share a similar nightmare featuring the same villain. Kitty gains a partner in her investigations with the patient, and war hero, Jack Yates. But can Kitty trust this apparently insane (and handsome and charismatic) patient? Or will trusting Jack cause Kitty to lose her long sought for sanctuary.
This was another winner from Simone St. James. Since reading The Haunting of Maddy Clare I have become a big fan of St. James and her post-war ghost stories. All of her novels are rich in atmosphere, creepy with the perfect dash of romance thrown in. Silence for the Dead was no exception.
What was different with Silence for the Dead was the theme of PTSD following the war. While that theme was explored in both The Haunting of Maddy Clare and An Inquiry in Love and Death, this theme was most prominent in Silence for the Dead. This latest novel was set in an insane asylum, so readers are up close and personal with soldiers who have come through the war traumatized in some way. This exploration of PTSD was enthralling and heartbreaking. It was fascinating to see how mental health patients were treated in an era where these issues were kept behind closed doors. As a reader from the present day, it’s completely tragic to see how the patients are treated at Portis House. St. James’ takes this vulnerability a step further with the haunting at Portis. All of the patients are susceptible to the ghostly presence at Portis House; however, because they are patients, their ghostly encounters are not taken seriously and thought to be part of their mental illness.
Kitty slowly comes to believe the patients accounts of a sinister presence, especially after encountering the famous war hero Jack Yates. Like the patients, Kitty also experiences the ghostly apparitions at Portis; however, she can do something about it. With Jack’s help Kitty is able to puzzle through the mysteries of Portis House and discover the presence that is threatening those who dwell there. But will she be able to rid the house of this dark presence?
As usual the creepiness factor was here, and you can’t help but feel the fear that goes through the mind of Kitty as she sees a shirtless man moving through the house and suddenly disappears. I love how well this terror is conveyed in St. James’ ghostly novels. It’s not a horror novel, but there’s something emotional that hits the reader on a visceral level and makes you feel that fear.
Lastly, I have to remark on the romance aspect of Silence for the Dead. Basically, I will read anything that has a hint of romance in it. Silence for the Dead strikes a fantastic balance between a mystery and a romance. It not as overt as a genre romance novel, but takes a subtler route that I loved.
Ultimately, I cannot rave about this novel enough. It was great storytelling with compelling themes. If you haven’t read one of St. James’ books yet, you need to pick any one of them up immediately.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Okay, I’m going to recommend Somewhere in France because it’s set in during wartime and it’s an awesome little romance. However, there are no ghosts in it, so if you’re not a fan of the paranormal, Somewhere in France would be a good choice if your interested in the period.
I really enjoyed the PTSD theme in Silence for the Dead, and it’s also a prominent theme in Anna Lee Huber’s second book, Mortal Arts. The second Lady Darby mystery may be set in an earlier period, but you get a similar look at how mental illness is treated with very little understanding or sympathy. It’s fascinating and maddening.
For my last recommendation I’m going to go with one I haven’t read, but is sitting on my book shelf right now. John Boyne’s This House is Haunted looks amazing. It sounds like those classic Gothic tales that I’m fond of, so here’s hoping it doesn’t disappoint. I’d love to hear from anyone who has read it.