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Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

Lost Among the Living is the fifth novel by Simone St. James.  I reviewed her four preceding novels on this blog: The Haunting of Maddy Clare, An Inquiry into Love and Death, Silence For the Dead, and The Other Side of Midnight.  Click the titles to read those reviews.  St. James' next novel, The Lost Girls, is set to be released next year.  I really enjoy the mix of suspense, supernatural, and mystery in St. James' novels.  Set in post-World War I England, they're a perfect blend of historical novel, mystery, and horror.  Lost Among the Living is creepy and atmospheric, and St. James is expert at spinning a good, old fashioned ghost story.

Jo Manders, a grieving widow, accepts a position with her husband's aunt, a difficult mistress, as the woman's paid companion.  However, from the moment Jo arrives at Wych Elm House, it is clear that things are not right either in the house or in the family.  Phantom footsteps follow Jo around the house, phantom leaves and people and mists appear and disappear seemingly at will, and the terrifying nightmares that haunt Jo disrupt her sleep leaving her exhausted the following morning.  The mysterious malfunctions of the house mirror the tension filled, mysterious dysfunctions within the Forsyth family that occupies the house.  These family dynamics are further reflected in the town residents' resentment, contempt, and distrust of the secretive Forsyth family.  In fact the family's secretiveness has bred rampant rumors and gossip among the townsfolk that only reinforces the tight lipped family ship that Dottie, Jo's husband's aunt, insists upon maintaining.

The return of prodigal son Martin Forsyth from convalescence on the continent brings an uneasy reunion between parents and child.  Martin's parents, Dottie and Robert, resent each other, and it's quite clear that post-war shell shock is not the only illness that ails sickly Martin whom his mother insists has returned to marry and continue the family line.  However, as the days and weeks go on, it becomes increasingly likely that Martin may not survive long enough to fulfill his mother's wishes.

The driving force of the story, and in which much of the familial tensions are rooted, are the dual mysteries of the death of Frances, the beloved, yet mad, daughter of the family as well as the contradictory picture of Alex, Jo's dead husband, that the Forsyths paint.  As the story progresses it's revealed that there were things in Alex's past that he didn't tell Jo.  The questions raised in my mind very early in the story were these: is the man really dead?  What was he really doing during the war?  Why is there such a disparity between the man Jo knew and the one the Forsyths remember?  Was Frances' death really a suicide?

Let's be real here.  Most everyone in this book is odd and prickly, except for Jo and maybe Martin.  And everyone in the Forsyth family or associated with them is weird, creepy, and/or hiding secrets--or all three.  None of which bodes well for a smart, observant woman like Jo, who is expert at sussing out secrets through gathering information and observation of those around her.  And the person ferreting out the mysteries and secrets of a family in which one member is already dead under mysterious circumstances as a result of someone else asking questions is a very dangerous undertaking.

Random Rant (Be warned--SPOILER ALERT)

Who pops back up after 'being dead for years' and is all 'heeeey--not really dead--sorry--my bad?'  Where were you?  Not dead (because obviously) and not a prisoner of war (because 'bureaucratic snafu' as the excuse for why your name didn't show on those lists is a piss poor excuse).  And the most infuriating part of this reunion is your daft idea/attitude that your wife should just be fine with your return and welcome you with open arms.  Who does that?  Not cool.  Not cool at all.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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