REVIEW: The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James
A true crime blogger gets more than she bargained for while interviewing the woman acquitted of two cold case slayings in this chilling new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Sun Down Motel.
In 1977, Claire Lake, Oregon, was shaken by the Lady Killer Murders: Two men, seemingly randomly, were murdered with the same gun, with strange notes left behind. Beth Greer was the perfect suspect—a rich, eccentric twenty-three-year-old woman, seen fleeing one of the crimes. But she was acquitted, and she retreated to the isolation of her mansion.
Oregon, 2017. Shea Collins is a receptionist, but by night, she runs a true crime website, the Book of Cold Cases—a passion fueled by the attempted abduction she escaped as a child. When she meets Beth by chance, Shea asks her for an interview. To Shea’s surprise, Beth says yes.
They meet regularly at Beth’s mansion, though Shea is never comfortable there. Items move when she’s not looking, and she could swear she’s seen a girl outside the window. The allure of learning the truth about the case from the smart, charming Beth is too much to resist, but even as they grow closer, Shea senses something isn’t right. Is she making friends with a manipulative murderer, or are there other dangers lurking in the darkness of the Greer house?
CW – Violent death “on page,” attempted abduction and sexual assault of a child, mention of death of a child, alcoholism, mention of mental health issues.
Dear Ms. St. James,
I merely see your name on the cover of a book and I ask to read it or get my hands on a copy. I’ve probably said similar things in my previous reviews of your books but it’s still true so I’ll say it again. Murder, weird family relationships, misogyny, alcoholism – this book actually has a few triggers for me but I still ate it up. It started slowly, built its momentum, and when the shit hit the fan, I ignored a phone call and kept reading because — wow. It will not be a book that everyone will like. The subject matter is intense and that’s before the paranormal elements begin. Some of the characters are awful human beings. Some of them will never pay for what they did in this life. But I actually came to understand the actions of one of them and gave a satisfied sigh of relief when Something Was Done. No, I won’t elaborate.
There’s a lot of stuff I didn’t understand in the book. Shea Collins, who as a child escaped an abduction by a murderer, spends most of her spare time delving into unsolved cold cases. She runs a blog about them, writing articles, exchanging information, thoughts, and theories with other people who are as obsessed about this stuff as she is. She has a PI who sometimes does investigative stuff for her, is recently divorced and still feeling the pain, won’t ride in a car much less drive one, is methodical about checking all the locks at her apartment, and has a load of guilt she’s never been able to put down in twenty years.
Shea’s also the first person Beth Greer has agreed to speak to about the murders for which Greer was tried and aquited forty years ago. Why did Beth decide to open up to Shea when countless other people had tried and failed to crack Beth’s icy refusal to talk? Well Beth gives Shea a reason but to me there was more than a whiff of Because the Plot Needs It. But okay, why not. Beth is a fascinating character. When suspicion fell on her it was the late 70s, way before #metoo, women were still in the early years of fighting for respect. Beth was young, very good looking, reserved, rich, and dismissive. The price she paid in the court of public opinion was to be labeled a stone cold, murdering bitch, then tried and convicted before she was even arrested.
Beth’s still not a warm or cuddly person, something Shea discovers when Beth starts to manipulate Shea and gives orders in the tone of a person used to always getting her way. Yeah, add privilege to Beth’s fault list, too. But we’ve already begun to learn about Beth’s present – horrific – and soon her past begins to unfold. None of it is pretty though at first there’s no outright abuse, mainly just neglect on the part of parents who never wanted to marry and have grown to hate each other even more over the years. Beth is partly a product of her environment and upbringing and maybe partly born a cold person.
Shea still fights her demons but the chance to interview this woman and maybe crack the still unsolved murders won’t let her go. When she first goes to Beth’s family mansion, weird stuff begins to happen. Stuff that Beth doesn’t react to and which Shea begins to wonder if she really saw … and felt.
Then something bizarre happened plotwise. The reader is given the information to be pretty sure Whodunnit. What? The book isn’t even halfway done! What’s next is when it really grabbed me. Somehow I was glued to the page watching everything unfold. The book became not so much a whodunnit as a whydunnit. Each step down the pathway that led to the murders and the reason why Beth did what she did forty years ago is laid out. Juxtaposed against this are Shea and her PI’s efforts to track down the final clues and fit everything together. Then came the “Oh, why would you do this” start to a scene that let all the Evil Woo-woo loose. Yep, it’s all intense in a “you can’t look away” manner. The train left the station years ago and, because things were or weren’t done, there’s no way to stop it.
How a reader reacts to the paranormal elements will depend on their willingness to suspend disbelief. Do I believe it could happen? Not really but for the sake of avoiding nightmares, I’m glad I finished it early in the afternoon. It’s a little far-fetched but I still enjoyed it. What I liked much more is how Shea gained strength to face her past issues and began to move past them. There are a few 5 month later and then 7 month later sections at the end that made it easier to accept the changes in her. I could also see how some unsolved cases stick with not only the lay people fascinated by them but also the police who find it hard to put down an unsolved crime.
The book has tons of atmosphere, well written characters who you want to know what will happen to them even if you might not like them (and is not afraid to make you dislike some of them), a haunted house with 70s orange and brown decor (and period record albums – see if you don’t immediately “see” the cover and “hear” the opening of the song of a famous one), and a found cat named Winston Purrchill. Yes, the cat helps Shea deal with her fears so I’m mentioning him. B
I didn’t read your review yet (I’m sure it is excellent!) as I like going into this author’s books with as little info as possible.
I have it on request at my library; now I’m just waiting waiting, waiting…
@Barb in Maryland: My library got 5 copies and there’s already about 10 people on the waiting list. I agree that you’re betting not knowing too much about the plot before diving in.
@Jayne, thanks for the review. I enjoyed her previous books and will pick this one up.
I’ve put a hold on the audiobook (one of the narrators is the same person who narrated Joanna Bourne’s historicals and she’s excellent so that’s a bonus). I’m up next so it shouldn’t be long until I have my grabby hands on it!
Just finished the book today and immediately read your review. You were right on point! Congratulations on delivering all the spooky vibes while not spoiling the story! Like you, I’m glad I finished the book in broad daylight.
This gets a solid A from me.
@Barb in Maryland: Thanks for the feedback. And you also answer the question of ♪ “Do you…you, feel like I do?”♫