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An Inquiry Into Love And Death by Simone St. James

An Inquiry Into Love And Death is the second novel by Simone St. James.  I previously read and reviewed and loved her debut The Haunting of Maddy Clare.  Her third novel is set to come out later this spring.  This second novel has everything its predecessor has: period drama, mystery, ghosts, romance, thrills, and suspense.  It's a terrifying, atmospheric, scary, creepy page turner.  AND the ghost hunters, Gellis and Ryder, from Maddy Clare get a shout out in this novel.  I will admit--I'm wondering what happened to Gellis and Ryder and Sarah from the first novel, but I loved the characters in An Inquiry as much as I loved the ones from Maddy Clare.  The debut novel took place in 1922; this novel takes place in 1924.

The English seaside village of Rothewell is possibly the most haunted place in England, this according to its residents.  The main manifestation dealt with in the story is a mysterious, mischievous and possibly hostile ghost by the name of Walking John.  Walking John haunts the woods nearby the village in fits and starts of cycles of seemingly random activity sparked by no one knows what catalyst.  The wraith is thought to be the spirit of a seventeenth century smuggler who killed himself in the immediate wake of the tragic drowning death of his young son whom he adored.  Is this the true origin of the haunting, and what is its connection to the Leigh family, if any?

Jillian Leigh, a student at Oxford, is called to Rothewell to identify the body of her estranged uncle, Toby, and to pack up his belongings from the house he was renting on the outskirts of the village.  Having not seen nor heard from her uncle for eight years following a rift of unknown origins between him and her parents, Jillian can only assume that Toby was in Rothewell on business.  Of course, knowing his chosen profession was ghost hunting, and upon hearing the legend of Walking John, Jillian believes that is what brought her uncle to Rothewell.

His body found at the bottom of a cliff, Toby's death is quickly ruled an accident, but that ruling doesn't hold much water with Inspector Drew Merriken, the Scotland Yard detective who arrives in Rothewell shortly after Jillian.  Based on a hunch he has (and on the knowledge of the true nature of the top secret investigation that has really brought him to town but which he holds back from Jillian), Drew believes Toby's death was no accident.  But all Drew has is a hunch and no proof, and one can't make a case based only on a hunch.  Soon Jillian is experiencing bone chillingly terrifying encounters with the mischievous spirit that haunts the woods nearby but cannot enter the house her uncle rented that now shelters Jillian.  It appears the spirit was intent on luring her uncle, just as it is now intent on luring Jillian from the safety of the house.

Why is the spirit fixed on Jillian (if it is at all)?  What did her uncle see in the woods a few nights before he fell to his death that, according to his journal, was not related to the supernatural manifestation he sought?  Is that what got Toby killed?  As it turns out the ghost isn't the only thing that uses the woods for cover especially at night.  And Jillian's connection to Rothewell may go far beyond merely being the place of her mysterious uncle's death.

After Drew and Jillian tentatively team up to solve the mystery of her uncle's death, Drew repeatedly warns Jillian to be careful of who she chooses to trust in the village.  Anyone could have pushed her uncle off that cliff for any reason related or not related to Walking John or to any other village secret.  Yet Jillian thinks nothing of confiding of her many encounters with Walking John to certain villagers (who are for all intents and purposes strangers to her) that I can't help but think, girl, you don't know who to trust there, so don't trust anyone!  That person to you're spilling everything might be the wrong person to trust!

I highly recommend you check this book out the next time you visit the library.

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