Concept: ★★★★★ – Post World War I in England, a single and parentless woman, two war veterans, a terrible marriage, and one haunted bar – all twisted into one engrossing, twisted, and haunting novel. The concept behind the 2012 novel, “The Haunting of Maddy Clare” by Simone St. James, is not only unique but also well encompassed. Highlighting the events of the timeframe, the author wove a tale that not only snagged my attention but metaphorically tugged me into an era that is too frequently forgotten.
Writing: ★★★★★ – Sometimes, when I read a book, I get so soaked in the words stroke the pages that I forget about my own milieu. These books are a gift, in the way that they have a way to divide your ordinary issues from your train of thought. The Haunting of Maddy Clare was so thoroughly descriptive of its scenes and happenings that a reader could imagine exactly what the – equally as meticulously described – characters are experiencing. Beyond that, the manner in which the story is told – where the narrator seems to be reflecting on a past event – presents a sensation that the reader is reviewing an account of a story from long ago.
Character Development: ★★★★★ – I think that the author developed her characters in a manner that not only allowed the reader to feel as though they were getting to know a recent acquaintance, while forcing them to face life events that ultimately transform the individual they were – the character who is introduced near the beginning of the book – into the person they become. Additionally, St. James cleverly tells just enough about each secondary character to allow the plot to thicken, saving all the important details for the end.
Plot: ★★★★★ – A girl who was tortured in life, left for dead, and saved from those who harmed her comes back – after her suicide – with an agenda. Three wounded souls from the era between the great wars come together to save her from her past and save themselves from her vengeance. Throw in two love stories and a tight-knit small town, you’ve got yourself a killer plot. Bravo, Simone St. James!
Pacing: ★★★★★ – Personally, I favor books that have the ability to hold the readers. If a book is so enthralling that I can read it in two days – or less – then I know that it’s a book I love. The sense of urgency and mystery that the author of The Haunting of Maddy Clare infuses in each chapter almost forces the reader to read just one more page or chapter.
Ending: ★★★★☆ – Although St. James took care to ensure each question in the reader’s mind was answered, I knew who the bad guys were about two-thirds of the way through the book. Although I wasn’t sure how the events of the ending would precisely play out, I had a good feeling who the ghost would take care of and who would be left behind. Of course, only part of me hoped for the love stories that blossomed.
Cover Art: ★★★☆☆ – The sad, yet completely honest truth, is that if I hadn’t read Simone St. James’s newer novel The Broken Girls – read my review here – I would have never bothered to grab this book at the library. The cover is a bland, semi-artistic image of the Clare’s home with the main character standing in the field. It does not include the haunted barn or any mischievous natured images, in general. Although I know the author has no control over which cover is used, I must say that the book took a hit because it wasn’t eye-catching.
Overall Rating: ★★★★☆
Before the Barn
It’s London in 1922, the decade is raging and the young women are starting to stand away from the standard life their gender had continuously been assigned. Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t shocked when I met Sarah Piper, the star – and the narrator – of this tale, who’s a young woman from the early twenty-first century that lives in a small apartment in the city, away from her family.
Trying to make it by, Sarah survives off of the jobs her temp agency lines her up with. Unfortunately, recently, Sarah hasn’t had much work, she’s behind on rent and, then, she gets a phone call. A man wants to meet her, in a public location, to see if she’s the right gal for his gig. Due to the rather strange circumstances of this request, Sarah is reluctant. However, she knows that if she doesn’t want the gig, the next girl will.
Braving the streets of a risky part of town, she decides to meet with Alistair Gellis – a well-off war veteran with a handsome face and charming personality – for a discussion regarding what she assumes will be an ordinary secretarial job. Caught off guard by his good looks, she ends up going on a ghost chase in the countryside with a man she hardly knows.
The morning after they arrive in Waringstoke, Sarah’s head is already puffing heart-shaped clouds about what could be with Alistair when she stumbles upon him and his ex-love interest, Evangeline Barry, in brief conversation on the walkway. Frustrated, they leave the inn and head to the Falmouth House, where Maddy Clare dwells, stranded in the afterlife.
After the Barn
Upon their arrival, Sarah and Alistair are informed that only Sarah – who has never dealt with such things – will be allowed in the barn. She then walks into the seemingly empty barn. Soon, without her knowledge, she begins to hallucinate that Maddy is hanging from the rafters. Even worse, she hallucinates that the barn is on fire. Terrified, she grabs the recorder and makes a run for the door. Suddenly, after Maddy gets inside her head, the fire disappears. Terrified, Sarah runs back to the inn. Fatigued, she rests before she meets with Alistair to report the day’s happenings.
Once she awakes and heads downstairs, she begins to relay the day’s horrors to Alistair when his assistant – a dark, wounded Great War veteran – Matthew Ryder bursts into the room. Sarah is immediately drawn to Matthew and a burning hot love story weaves into a terrifying novel. She then shares the day’s events with both men, before going to bed.
The next day, interviews are conducted with Mrs. Clare and her servant, Ms. Macready. They learn that Maddy just appeared one day, on their porch, covered in dirt. They describe the fear that she had of Mr. Clare while he was still living and how this made Mr. Clare question her very humanity. However, they insist that Maddy was truly a sweet girl, that she was just disturbed. That night, after the interviews, Sarah unintentionally views Matthew without his shirt on, and she describes every little detail.
The following morning, she ventures out to the Falmouth House by herself. She enters the barn and communicates with Maddy, asking her to go into the light. Furious, Maddy invades her head again, telling her that she can smell Alistair on her – for they had hugged the night before and that she wanted Sarah to bring him to her. Terrified, she burst out the doors of the barn running, screaming at the top of her lungs. She slams into a rock hard, burning hot body and Matthew convinces her to stop yelling.
They then go back to the inn and relay the events to Alistair over dinner. He decides that he should go into the barn and, the next time Sarah does, he and Matthew join. Alistair is then drawn into a shellshocked shell of despair, reliving the Great War. Although he snaps out of his odd state of mind occasionally, solving this mystery remains up to Sarah and Matthew.
How it Ends
In the end, Sarah and Matthew communicate with Maddy to figure out where she came from, what happened to her and give her what she needs to move on. Alistair is released and ends up falling in love with Evangeline. So, basically, Maddy moves on and everyone lives happily ever after.
If you want more details, you should probably read the book!