An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James

15808471There’s nothing I’d rather do on a cold wintery night than to curl up with an atmospheric Gothic ghost story. So you can imagine my excitement when a rep from Penguin offered me a copy of this dark and tragic ghost tale set in post-WWI England. Although I’m not familiar with this author, I had a hunch that she would earn a spot right next to Barbara Michaels in my dirty dozen of top Gothic mystery writers! 

Set in the Roaring 20s, the story revolves around Jillian Leigh, a headstrong Oxford student who gets thrust into the middle of a mystery after her uncle Toby’s tragic death. Leaving at the beginning of the term is downright unthinkable, but Jillian has no other option but to drop everything to straighten out his affairs. 

You see, Toby wasn’t really much of a family favorite, probably because of his rather unorthodox profession. Despite his brother’s plea to do something more socially acceptable, like becoming a banker, Toby spent his waking hours tracking ghosts. And for some inexplicable reason, he was drawn to the sleepy seaside village of Rothewell. 

Now here’s where the story gets really good! As Jillian settles in for her first night alone in her dead uncle’s lonely old house, strange things start to happen outside in the dark thicket of woods. Inexplicable noises keep her awake at night…as if something or someone is beckoning her to walk outside along the cliffs where her uncle plummeted to his death. 

It gets even creepier when she starts snooping through Toby’s ghost-hunting tools and finds his journal of haunted happenings. As she starts asking the town locals about Rothewell’s ghost lore, she comes up with more questions than answers. Is the town haunted by the ghost of an angry smuggler named “Walking John”? Or are the locals just trying to keep people out of Blood Moon Bay for other reasons? Who – or what – is to blame for Toby’s staged suicide? And why was Toby so enraptured by a woman named Elizabeth? 

With some help from a sexy Scotland Yard investigator and a scrappy orange cat, Jillian searches for clues and digs up some dark secrets about the strangely enchanting town. 

I’ll leave it at that to save you from any spoilers. I will say that this book is kick ass – and if you’re a fan of supernatural historical mysteries, this one’s a surefire winner! The scorching romantic tension, the complex characters, the plot twists – everything about it is spot on. 

The biggest selling point, however, is the setting. This author has a talent for transporting a reader into England’s lush and misty coast – the perfect setting for a chilling ghost tale. As I lost myself in her lyrical descriptions, I could practically smell the sea salt and hear the waves crashing against the jagged cliffs. 

This isn’t just a tale of ghosts and mystery; it’s also a journey of self-discovery. As Jillian delves into the legends and lore of Rothewell, she also stumbles upon some life-altering family secrets. I loved watching her grow from a self-conscious, sheltered bookworm into a fearless crime-solving sleuth. I’m really hoping I’ll get to see more of her in the future. There’s plenty of opportunity for a sequel, so fingers crossed!

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