The Haunting of Maddy Clare, by Simone St. James

>> Monday, July 07, 2014

TITLE: The Haunting of Maddy Clare
AUTHOR: Simone St. James

PAGES: 318

SETTING: 1920s England
TYPE: Paranormal Fiction

Sarah Piper's lonely, threadbare existence changes when her temporary agency sends her to assist a ghost hunter. Alistair Gellis-rich, handsome, scarred by World War I, and obsessed with ghosts- has been summoned to investigate the spirit of nineteen-year-old maid Maddy Clare, who is haunting the barn where she committed suicide. Since Maddy hated men in life, it is Sarah's task to confront her in death. Soon Sarah is caught up in a deperate struggle. For Maddy's ghost is real, she's angry, and she has powers that defy all reason. Can Sarah and Alistair's assistant, the rough, unsettling Matthew Ryder, discover who Maddy was, whereshe came from, and what is driving her desire for vengeance-before she destroys them all?

It's 1922 and Sarah Piper is making ends meet by temping. Her jobs usually involve boring secretarial work, but not the latest job she's offered by her temp agency. Her employer would be Alistair Gellis, a wealthy young war veteran, and what Alistair wants from Sarah isn't secretarial work. Far from it; Alistair is a ghost hunter, and his latest case involves a haunting by a man-hating ghost. He hopes Sarah will be able to do the direct contacting of the ghost, which is the bit that won't work quite as well for him.

Sarah is reluctant initially, but she accepts and sets off with him to the small village where the ghost resides. There they are joined by Matthew Ryder, Alistair's usual assistant and also a war veteran. Sarah doesn't quite believe in ghosts, but is willing to go along with the man who's paying her salary. However, before too long, there are no doubts left in her mind.

The ghost is real. She's the ghost of Maddy Clare, a young maid who hanged herself in a barn and is now haunting it, terrifying anyone who comes close. Alistair's plan works, and Sarah is able to communicate with her, after a fashion. Maddy is very angry and very powerful. She wants revenge for whatever it was that drove her to suicide, and she demands Sarah help.

This one was a bit of a mixed bag for me. There were certain things that I thought worked wonderfully. First and foremost, the haunting itself is really well done. The ghost of Maddy Clare really is quite scary, and the author succeeds in creating an extremely creepy atmosphere. I also liked Sarah very much. She is a woman who really does value her independence, even if it means that she has to scrimp and save. She's sensible and knows her own mind, and this manifests in a low-key way. Finally, I liked the setting, even if it was a bit shallow, more atmosphere than exploration of the world in the 20s (to be honest, this story could have been set in quite a few other time periods with a tiny number of adjustments).

There are several negatives, though. Much as I enjoyed the ghost story, I found myself very uncomfortable with the priorities of our ghost-hunters. The focus seemed to be a lot more on the threat from Maddy, and how to make the scary ghost go away, and not so much on what happened to her and making sure the culprits be made to pay for it. Those Maddy wanted revenge against were dangerous people; who's to say they wouldn't do the same thing to someone else? That doesn't seem to worry them particularly.

I was just as uncomfortable with the romance. It felt tacked on and unnecessary, with Sarah's love interest being paper-thin as a character. I was also quite disturbed by the rapey way in which it starts, especially considering what we're discovering at the same time about what happened to Maddy. It would have been a better book with that element pruned out.



Christine,  7 July 2014 at 23:26  

I agree about the romance part of this book. It just seemed.... odd to me. I also thought the main character was contradictory in that she was so conservative she was worried about meeting a potential employer in the tea shop alone. But mentioned later in the story she had ended up sleeping with men she wasn't really interested in because she happened to be out with them and whatever. I thought that was really strange not only because she was such a shy and in many ways backwards kind of person socially, but because she was an orphan barely hanging on financially. In the 1920's that seemed like a crazy risk for a single woman with no family or close friends to take for men she seemed very lukewarm over. The romance with the hero seemed really abrupt and out of nowhere. I agree the haunting was excellent and provided some genuinely scary moments. I had been thinking there was going to be some Barbara Michaels-esque tension over who the hero would be (and perhaps the other guy would prove to be a villain) but that didn't pan out.

Sun,  9 July 2014 at 02:05  

This one was my hope for filling the "A book that scares you" slot in the reading bingo. It didn't work but still enjoyable. It was more of a cozy mystery to me so I appreciated the romance aspect. I listened to the audiobook version and discovered that you can tell a hero and a sidekick apart just from the author's choices of voice.

Rosario 9 July 2014 at 06:34  

Christine: You're right. I did think that as I was reading... in fact, that aspect of Sarah's character jarred so much that I must have kind of blocked it out of my idea of her. It felt completely wrong. And absolutely, I did think for a while that there might be something more there with the romance, and was a little bit disappointed that there wasn't!

Sun: Can I suggest a really good one for your scary book? Try Dark Matter, by Michelle Paver. It's actually set in the 1920s as well, but in an isolated island in the Arctic. It's subtly creepy, rather than gory, and I found it really scary.

Sun,  11 July 2014 at 08:26  

Hey, you're the second person who suggested me this book! I seriously need to check it out. Thank you.

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