REVIEW: The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
Something hasn’t been right at the roadside Sun Down Motel for a very long time, and Carly Kirk is about to find out why in this chilling new novel from the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.
Upstate New York, 1982. Viv Delaney wants to move to New York City, and to help pay for it she takes a job as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, New York. But something isn’t right at the motel, something haunting and scary.
Upstate New York, 2017. Carly Kirk has never been able to let go of the story of her aunt Viv, who mysteriously disappeared from the Sun Down before she was born. She decides to move to Fell and visit the motel, where she quickly learns that nothing has changed since 1982. And she soon finds herself ensnared in the same mysteries that claimed her aunt.
Dear Ms. St. James,
Well, you’ve done it again – produced a book that kept me glued to my chair (or unmoving in bed as I read through to the middle right before going to sleep, jumping at noises outside my house and contemplating leaving a light on). I read and pondered and thought and believed I’d figured out what would happen before changing my mind as more clues were revealed. But whoa and damn, there was stuff at the end that I didn’t expect as I tore through to the satisfying ending. And while one thing in the plot seemed a little too convenient and happened just when it was needed, the atmosphere and spookiness were top notch.
Hmmm, what to say so as not to give away spoilers. I had to laugh as modern Carly compares Fell, NY to Cabot Cove – the fictional town in “Murder She Wrote” which has one of the highest per capita murder rates in fiction. Fell has an awful lot of people who were murdered, young women specifically. That is part of the fear factor of the book as, at times, both Viv and Carly think how horribly easy it is for someone to disappear, to vanish, to be there one minute and dead soon after. Would anyone miss them, if they were victims of a killer? In a way, they could be any woman walking alone in the late evening on her way home, or alone in her house, or just alone at a time when no one would witness what occurred. Yep, that sent a shiver down my spine because don’t all women, in some corner of their minds and at some time, think this?
The plot is tightly woven with a whopper of an opening teaser that Bad Things are going to happen. We the reader know that some things are going to be done to certain characters and we slowly get details of past victims. This is another part of the fear factor of the story – knowing or guessing about events and then reading, with our hearts in our throats as Viv and Carly try to solve the horror taking place even as it circles around closer to them. Why does the motel go “crazy” at certain times? Who are the people that certain characters see and why are they at the Sun Down Motel? And most of all, what did happen to Viv 35 years ago when she vanished, her body never found?
I wasn’t enamored of one final twist near the end. It wasn’t that this character appeared out of thin air or dramatically changed in the uneasiness I felt about them but it seemed like an attempt to wring an unneeded final scare out of the book after the main attraction had already left me wracked and limp with relief it was over.
As another reviewer I read mentioned, the motel is as much a character in this story as any of the humans and I could feel the supernatural ick permeating it. The paranormal element is just enough without being too much. I also enjoyed my trip back to 1982 – hey, I liked my high waist jeans! – and laughed at the bewilderment of Carly and her friend Heather as to how any of us managed to survive day to day without the Internet or cell phones. Short answer – we did. The number of strong female characters delighted me though I sighed with sympathy as one recounts what she had to put up with in order to be allowed to do the job she loved. Some repetition crept into the story due to the dual timeline but I found that didn’t bother me as I just had to know what happened next. The buddy romance added a light touch of humor but the main takeaway of the story is how far will some people go to see justice done and what price will they pay. B+