An Inquiry into Love and Death

Title: In Inquiry into Love and Death
Author: Simone St. James
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 2013
ISBN: 978-0-451-23925-9

Book Summary:
In the 1920’s being a woman at Oxford is a challenge. Jillian Leigh works tirelessly to keep up with her studies and prove herself a worthy student; she has no time at all deal with a family issue. When a solicitor from London appears with news of her uncle Toby’s fatal fall from a cliff, she travels to the seaside village of Rothewell to officially identify the body and pack up his belongings. Jillian remembers her Uncle Toby fondly from childhood but after he became estranged from her parents, her interaction with him stopped. Some of the separation may have been due to Toby’s occupation – a ghost hunter. As her parents are in Europe, Jillian must take the responsible family role.

She arrives at the Barrow House, which her uncle had rented for his research, and immediately the incidents start up. A book appears in a stove, a gate swings open but no one is there; soon they escalate into something much more terrifying. An angry spirit seems to be intent on entering the house. Is it Walking John, a-two-hundred-year-old ghost who haunts Blood Moon Bay in search of his drowned son? Or, is it something significantly more real?

To complicate matters, Scotland Yard inspector Drew Merriken arrives on the scene. Jillian is both attracted to him and wary of him. That Scotland Yard is interested in an accidental death doesn’t sit well with the small community, and Rothewell’s eccentric populations seems to close ranks. As the accidents intensify, it become apparent to Jillian and Drew that there is more to the death of her uncle and the ghost stories than either can imagine.

Book Commentary:
This is the third book I have read by Simone St. James and I really enjoy each unique and independent story. All her novels contain a supernatural element and occur following World War I. The horrors of war affect the characters in different ways in each of the novels, and it is fascinating to see the different manifestations of ghosts in her works. The spirit in An Inquiry into Love and Death has a historical appeal and a link to smuggling on the coast of England. I found the tie to the past combined with the post-World War I really engaging. Regardless of what you think of ghosts, St. James provides some compelling justification. The story is suspenseful and exciting, but just short of scary. I have way too active an imagination for horror stories!!

Who might like this book:
An Inquiry into Love and Death would be a great book for a book club. Fans of the post-World War I era will find the descriptions of vehicles and societal attitudes especially fascinating; I enjoyed the description of the Alvis motorcar and the reactions to Jillian’s driving. Although all St. James’ stories include a romantic element, I really enjoy how that part of the plot line doesn’t detract from the main story. My 15-year-old daughter enjoys St. James’ books as well and I think her novels are a good bridge between young adult/teen literature and adult literature. We have enjoyed discussing her novels and they would work well for a mother-daughter book club selection.

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