The Broken Girls formed Part 2 of my recent ghost story craving (part 1 was Michelle Paver’s spooky & atmospheric book Dark Matter) – and I am happy to say it lived up to my expectations! The tricky part with ghost stories is the fine balance between reality and the paranormal, and the art of making the supernatural elements believable, marrying them seamlessly into the narrative. In my opinion, St. James has really mastered the art, and created an intriguing and compelling tale that features not only a ghost story, but also a contemporary murder mystery and a historical cold case, each of them linked to the atmospheric setting of an abandoned haunted boarding school. Doesn’t that sound tempting already? Personally, I love nothing more than a spooky setting as well as a cold case mystery, so it was a no-brainer that this book was one of my most anticipated new releases for 2018, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
St. James uses a dual timeline to tell her story, including various POVs from the past and present. I really loved the 1950’s setting in a creepy boarding school for “troubled” girls, which provided just the right atmospheric and claustrophobic setting to make my skin crawl when listening to the audio book in the dark confines in my car on my way home from work at night! Here is a perfect example on how to use a dual timeline to ratchet up tension and suspense in the best possible way. Whilst journalist Fiona, our present-day protagonist, slowly uncovers clues about Idlewild, the mysterious abandoned school grounds where her sister met her death twenty years ago, the reader is also privy to small snippets of the events unfolding in the 1950’s through the eyes of four different girls who were students at the school at the time. Fiona’s frustration over vital information she is missing to make all the pieces slot into place matched my own as my curiosity got the better of me and I found it extremely difficult to tear myself away from this heartbreaking and intriguing tale!
As stated earlier, there is a creepy supernatural element included in the story, in the form of Mary Hand, a ghostly black-veiled figure who prowls the grounds at night, sending terror into the hearts of everyone who encounters her. I loved this eerie character, who added greatly to the suspense and mystery of the story. Who really is Mary Hand? Is she real or just a figment of the girls’ imagination? And what is it she shows to her select victims? I was so intrigued by this last question that I really wanted to know more about it and puzzled over what she would show me, should I ever encounter her (God forbid!). St. James portrayal of the forbidding school grounds is extremely realistic, and my favourite parts of the book were the descriptions of Fiona walking through the abandoned building, feeling its strange menace. It still sends shivers down my spine thinking about it!
With a dual timeline featuring two separate murder mysteries, The Broken Girls is a perfect example on how to incorporate a spooky ghostly element to ratchet up tension without pushing the story too far into the realm of the unbelievable. If you love a good suspense story with a historical background and an atmospheric gothic setting, I urge you to give this a go – even for readers who are not normally fans of the supernatural. For extra goosebumps, read this one alone at night with the wind howling outside and the tap-tapping of spidery branches on the roof – or was it footsteps I heard? I can’t wait to read more from this author!