In The Book of Cold Cases, by Simone St James, Shea is a doctor’s receptionist and a true-crime blogger. When Beth Greer, the acquitted suspect in the cold-case Lady Killer Murders, comes in for a medical appointment, Shea has to ask her for an interview for her site. Although Beth has refused to tell her story for years and basically lives as a recluse in the family mansion, she agrees to talk to Shea about it.
There are almost immediately signs of supernatural activity in this story. But is it Shea’s own traumatic history coming back to the surface, is Beth actually the twisted Lady Killer playing twisted pranks, or is there something even darker going on in the Greer house? Something that the criminal investigators missed, but Shea can discover? The possibilities pulled me in very quickly.
I almost didn’t request The Book of Cold Cases, because true crime gives me the creeps. I’m all for imaginary murders in suspense fiction and thrillers, but it’s somehow ghoulish to rake over a real tragedy for entertainment. Plus, there’s usually gore in true-crime stories. No, thanks. But fortunately for me, there’s almost nothing bloody in this novel. The story hinges on murder, yes, but it’s not described with a lot of gross detail.
I’ve read two of Simone St James’ other novels, The Sun Down Motel and The Broken Girls. In both stories, there’s a supernatural element that seems to prey on powerless girls, girls who definitely won’t be taken seriously. Actually, a great deal of supernatural horror fiction and movies relies on a girl or woman seeing something strange, and her boyfriend/husband just ignoring what she experienced, until the strange sightings are full-blown monster attack. St James uses this theme in her stories, where the characters are aware that no one will believe their experiences, except maybe other women. For eaxmple, The Broken Girls has generations of castoff daughters in a boarding school writing notes in their textbooks to piece together the sightings of the campus ghost.
Here, Beth Greer is the opposite. She’s rich and pretty, and drinks too much, so instead of being forgotten and ignored, she’s obviously a slut. She’s written off for exactly the opposite reasons, but the result is the same. Beth has no one to talk with about her experiences and no one who would believe her if she did want to talk about it. Until, maybe, she decides to let Shea in on what really happened.
There’s a great deal of tension in The Book of Cold Cases, without much blood, which is exactly what I like in a suspense story. I spent a lot of the book wondering about Beth and the whole Greer family. I thought Beth was, well, maybe not the cold-hearted Lady Killer, but not exactly a good guy, either. I was constantly worried about Shea, and what she might find. Shea’s past trauma made her seem particularly vulnerable (outside of her true-crime research hobby, that is), and I always need a character to care about in a suspense novel. Plus, there was the same ambience I loved in The Sun Down Motel and The Broken Girls, that constant ominous feeling that things were just not quite right below the surface.
The Book of Cold Cases is by Simone St. James and will be published by Berkley on March 15, 2022. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC. Opinions are my own, as always.