The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 48. Redo one of this year’s prompts but with a different genre (41. Involves a second chance)
Other Possible Prompts: 22. An unlikely detective, 25. A wealthy character, 36. Recommended by a favorite author (Moreno-Garcia), 41. Involves a second chance, 52. Published in 2022
Simone St. James does it again! Silvia Moreno-Garcia hit the nail on the head when she says it “oozes atmosphere”. I was absolutely transported by this multi-timeline novel of murder and buried history.
Haunted by her near-kidnapping at age nine, divorcee Shea Collins lives a sheltered life running her blog, The Book of Cold Cases, that focuses on the theories and evidence behind America’s cold case murders. After a chance encounter at her workplace, Shea gets the opportunity to interview Beth Greer: the elderly woman from her town of Claire Lake acquitted of two grisly murders in the 70s, referred to as The Lady Killer Murders. While many believe Beth is undoubtedly guilty, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict, and now Shea has the chance to ask every burning question to blow the case wide open. Piece by piece, Shea unearths more than anyone ever knew about The Lady Killer Murders, and the alluring Beth Greer that was the evil face of them.
Atmospheric is a darn good word to describe this novel. The setting St. James builds spins worlds around you as you listen. I can see the town, the house, every dimly-lit scene in my head. This was absolutely one of my favorite components of The Broken Girls as well, but in The Book of Cold Cases, St. James ramps up the plot as well. It’s dark and mysterious, and each passing page illuminates just a little bit more of the story we’re unraveling. It’s masterful.
I liked Shea most of the time, but she is a bit flat as a character. She’s kind of like eggs. She is a vehicle for other, better foods, but she by herself isn’t necessarily bad, just bland. I know she had the whole background trauma of being abducted as a child, and that helped her take shape a bit. I feel bad writing about her trauma like it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but honestly it kind of didn’t. The abduction of her childhood explained her fascination with cold cases and murder, but it was otherwise a very unimportant component of the story, in my opinion. Shea’s investigation into the Lady Killer murders just breathes life into the other characters, past and present, as we learn the ins and outs of the case. She is a vehicle for telling their story, not so much her own.
Beth Greer, in contrast, shines. I loved her steely confidence through the 70s, her brash and mysterious demeanor of the current day. Her story is wildly interesting and her character brings in a lot of questions of morality to the story. I won’t spoil anything, but the ending is really designed to make you call everyone’s character into question, to decide what’s wrong or right. Personally, I’m team Beth all day long. She gets the ending she deserves, I think.
Also much like The Broken Girls, The Book of Cold Cases has an unexpected paranormal element to it that I just absolutely love. It’s tasteful without being overdone. It draws on the chilling subtlety of a Stephen King haunted house, where you still know the true evil lies in the truth itself. This is an excellent crime novel, thriller, and ghost story wrapped into one.
My biggest complaint here is that there are small inconsistencies in the characters or their motivations that niggled while I read. They clearly weren’t intended to be clues; moreso oversights I believe. Something a good editor could’ve caught and asked why?
I absolutely devoured this book – just two days, and I couldn’t put it down once I started it. I’ve been in a thriller/crime novel mood and this hit the spot, really breaking through all the “meh” books I’ve read lately. This sold me completely on another Simone St. James novel. I’ll need to read The Sun Down Motel now (borrowing from the library as we speak)!
Enjoy the rest of the week, friends!