REVIEW: Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James
In 1919, Kitty Weekes, pretty, resourceful, and on the run, falsifies her background to obtain a nursing position at Portis House, a remote hospital for soldiers left shell-shocked by the horrors of the Great War. Hiding the shame of their mental instability in what was once a magnificent private estate, the patients suffer from nervous attacks and tormenting dreams. But something more is going on at Portis House—its plaster is crumbling, its plumbing makes eerie noises, and strange breaths of cold waft through the empty rooms. It’s known that the former occupants left abruptly, but where did they go? And why do the patients all seem to share the same nightmare, one so horrific that they dare not speak of it?
Kitty finds a dangerous ally in Jack Yates, an inmate who may be a war hero, a madman… or maybe both. But even as Kitty and Jack create a secret, intimate alliance to uncover the truth, disturbing revelations suggest the presence of powerful spectral forces. And when a medical catastrophe leaves them even more isolated, they must battle the menace on their own, caught in the heart of a mystery that could destroy them both.
Dear Ms. St. James,
Last year I finally got with the program and read one of your books, “Lost Among the Living.” I was very impressed and giddy at the thought that there was already a backlist for me to try. While waiting for your next book, I decided to read “Silence for the Dead.”
There are many similarities between the two books: post World War I setting, military men with mental health issues, a heroine left to her own resources just trying to survive, an unexpected hero, gothic spookiness and possible paranormal elements. It’s also got an ending that the survivors numbly admit would make the authorities think them barking mad even if some weren’t already considered so and being treated for it.
The setting could hardly be more gothic if it tried. A rundown grand estate on an island often shrouded by fog with only one access bridge which can be cut off by bad weather. Portis House is now a mental asylum for military men who physically survived the war but who are all battling the mental scars it gave them. Their families are ashamed of them, don’t want them and have the means to pay handsomely to keep the men away. But despite the grandeur of the surroundings, only part of the house is used while the shut off wing falls into decay.
Kitty Weekes isn’t complaining because this is literally her last hope. Post war jobs are hard to come by and she’s been on the run from an abusive father for years, staying one step ahead of destitution. Seizing her chance, she arrives at Portis House and hopes to brazen her way into a nursing job. Matron sees right through her but in desperate need of staff, she takes Kitty on after making it clear who’s in charge. It’s a place where only those who have no other options will stay and Kitty is determined to stay.
Since Kitty has never done any type of nursing, much less dealt with shell shocked men, she questions much and watches everything. Her lies are well thought out – she’s learned you have to make them good and airtight – but she soon realizes the ironclad rules for staff and patients are there for a purpose. Still, there’s something strange going on.
Little hints swell into larger ones which are capped by not only what Kitty sees and hears but what she feels – literally. The patients might be suffering from their war experiences but that doesn’t totally explain what is going on. There is a mystery here and forces which no one fully understands. Kitty finds one unexpected staunch ally where she least expects one. He might also be the love of her life, the first man to ever treat her with love and care. But can she trust him any more than any other person at Portis House?
The mystery is carefully set up with enough every day-ness that it can almost be explained with perfectly rational excuses. Parts of the house are decaying and falling apart, the men have mental health issues, Kitty is new there and not a nurse. But then the weird, the eerie, the spooky, the evil supernatural takes over and will have its way in the end. When the dust settles … well as I said the ones still there are left to concoct a story that won’t have the staff locked up with the patients in another mental ward.
But while the finale is slowly built up throughout the book, I felt it fell a little flat in the end. Some of the atmospheric events, such as the spooky sounds in the lav (bathroom) became more a nuisance after a while rather than being terrifying. Yes, black mold everywhere is gross but it’s not terrifying. And some of the events, while richly detailed, got too convoluted by the end.
What I did really like is Kitty’s growth as a person. She started as strong but self involved – though given a background which definitely would have lead her to be this way – but developed strengths and leadership as she was tested by the happenings at the asylum. The romance, once it got started, is great too. Much is told through looks and actions rather than through sex. Though the sex promises to be fun for them too. And yippee, the sexy times aren’t going to immediately solve all Kitty’s fears nor did true lurve conquer the hero’s issues most of which had already been dealt with though some would always remain.
I came closer, fighting shyness, fighting all the fears that had held me back. When I came in range he took my wrists and pulled me in until I stood between his knees. He took my face in his hands and kissed me.
It was everything, that kiss. It was the closeness of him, his skin setting a reaction off mine like sparks, even when we weren’t touching. It was the goodness of it, the rightness of it, the fact that I was afraid, and that the fear was right, too. I could be afraid, and I could still do this, still do anything I wanted. It was the fact that he’d come back from that dark, dark place he’d been. It was the fact that both of us had thought ourselves alone in the world, and that we’d both been wrong.
So the suspense part felt as if there should have been more bang for the amount of buck and time spent setting it up but the romance is a winner. B