Review: ‘The Sun Down Motel,’ by Simone St. James

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“The Sun Down Motel” by Simone St. James; Berkley (336 pages, $26)


When are we too old for ghost stories? As long as they are as taut and twisty as Simone St. James’ latest novel, make that never. In this modern-day crime mystery, the ghosts are very much a part of the cast of characters, specific spirits, pitiable, eternally wronged — and angry.

But let’s talk about the living first. This is a multigenerational story about Carly, a 20-year-old woman who leaves college to visit an upstate New York town where a family mystery took place years before, and Vivian, Carly’s aunt, who at age 20 was seemingly snatched from her job as a night clerk at the town’s seediest inn. The timeline hops back and forth between the two young women in different decades, but soon we see that time doesn’t matter in the supernatural world of the Sun Down Motel.

In 1982, Vivian learns of a string of murdered girls in the town’s recent history. She sets off to right some wrongs, Nancy Drew style, grooming some accomplices along the way. Her investigation leads to a frequent motel guest as a possible serial killer — and to Viv’s own mysterious disappearance in the middle of a November night, never to be heard from again.

In 2017, Carly visits the Sun Down, now dilapidated but still open, and (“Don’t Do It!”) takes a job as the night clerk, just as Viv did. She is soon hearing the same stories of the dead girls and is drawn down the same path. And then the motel’s ghosts start appearing. She re-creates Vivian’s perilous mistakes (genetic destiny?) and stumbles onto the same serial-killer theory that Viv did years before.

Will she find justice for the haunting victims in this new day? Or end up as Vivian did, a missing girl herself? Readers of this thoroughly entertaining thriller won’t be disappointed.


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