The Haunting of Maddy Clare is a compelling blend of ghost story, romance, history, and psychology, which could have made it a jumbled mess but which works very, very well.
We first meet ordinary Sarah Piper living her dreary London life as a temporary girl, on her way to meet a new employer. Alastair Gellis, author and ghost hunter, hires Sarah as his assistant and proceeds to turn her world inside out. He needs her, you see, to engage a ghost who hates men. Gellis and his male assistant and fellow WWI soldier, Matthew Ryder, are determined to publish evidence of a ghost no one has ever recorded. However, when they send Sarah into the barn where the ghost lives, they trigger the final chapter in a sordid, painful story involving a young girl, Maddy Clare, made mute by a horrifying experience at age 12 who ends her life at age 19. When Maddy’s ghost is released from the barn, no one is safe, including Sarah, Alistair, and Matthew.
Simone St. James has produced a suspenseful ghost story full of creepy, frightening imagery. Maddy is a vengeful ghost, for sure, and St. James writes her part with just the right amount of description to make you shiver and look over your shoulder. St. James also has produced a decent romance between Sarah and Matthew, into which bleeds the psychological effects of war. Alastair and Matthew both fought in WWI and each experienced different levels of horror, both physical and psychological. The whole reason behind their ghost hunting is intriguing. At one point, Matthew talks about how Alistair had always been interested in ghosts, but that he, Matthew, wondered what happened to the ghosts of all the men he watched die in the Somme and at Ypres. Matthew says “I think the war annihilates ghosts. If we have mechanized death — and we have; I’ve seen it — then where do the ghosts go? I find that most frightening of all. That the ghosts disappear with our humanity.”
There is especially good character development here for Matthew and Sarah. We see Sarah transform from a timid girl with a “soft shell” to a confident, assertive woman ready to finally live her life. Matthew, it seems, begins to come to terms with the physical scars left on his body from the war, but is only slowly beginning to unfold emotionally. I hope St. James writes another book with all these characters because I’d really like to see how they develop.
Readers who like a little romance with their scary stories will find this book very enjoyable. Recommended.