Recommended: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

The year is early, but The Broken Girls by Simone St. James is by far the best novel I’ve read in 2019 so far.

This is not your typical thriller, and I should point out that The Broken Girls has three elements that I enjoy in all novels, regardless of genre: a dual timeline, a creepy supernatural element, and journalists.

When authors like St. James do it correctly, the supernatural element does not impact the core plot events or explain a twist in the story, but rather adds to the tone and setting. And a story that features characters across two timelines who intersect in a thrilling, engaging climax and denouement, is right up my alley.

Both of these elements are masterfully inserted into this murder mystery whose main character, and her father, are journalists.

In the fall of 2014, Fiona Sheridan is a freelance magazine journalist in the small town of Barrons, Vermont, who is haunted by the murder of her sister, Deb, who was killed twenty years earlier. Deb’s murderer—her then-boyfriend and son of the town’s most prominent family—beat her and dumped her on the property of Idlewild, a shuttered girls-only boarding school.

Fiona is consumed by the murder, and oftentimes visits Idlewild and investigates around the edges of the case. After a night spent on the road leading to Idlewild, she learns someone has bought the property and intends to re-open the school.

After convincing the editor of a Vermont magazine for which she frequently freelances of the story’s importance—and her ability to be impartial—Fiona goes to Idlewild to interview the son of the buyer, Margaret Eden. While she’s there, the construction crew finds a body.

As the story unfolds in 2014, The Broken Girls regularly jumps back to 1950 to tell the story of four roommates at Idlewild—Katie, CeCe, Roberta, and Sonia, all of whom rely on each other to get through the harsh conditions at Idlewild—and of the ghost that haunts the school, Mary Hand. The girls all have reasons they were sent to Idlewild, and Mary, who is a well-known poltergeist at the school, seems Hell-bent on not letting them forget those reasons.

In 2014, authorities—which include Fiona’s cop boyfriend, who is the son of three generations of Barrons police chiefs—discover the body is that of Sonia. As the odd couple look into Sonia, they discover the investigation was almost non-existent, as is information on how Sonia, a French girl who emigrated to America just after the conclusion of World War II, got to Idlewild and ended up in the school’s water well.

But as they get smaller clues, Fiona realizes Sonia was held at a Nazi camp that was essentially women-only, including the guards.

Without giving away spoilers, the mystery is solved wonderfully, and all of the mysteries are explained, including where Mary Hand came from.

The only character I didn’t connect with was Fiona’s cop boyfriend, Jamie. He is needed to advance and deepen the plot, and I suppose I understand the awkward nature of their relationship. But the scenes with them were the least interesting to me, and I would have liked the story as much or more if she would have just been using him as a source in the PD and they ended up in bed with a potential relationship looming after the book is over.

Still, even with this minor complaint, it’s not enough to put much of a damper on this story for me. I highly recommend The Broken Girls to readers of any adult genre, and this may be a novel I re-read several more times over the years.

The Broken Girls is available on Amazon or wherever you buy your books online.

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