For me, a big part of the attraction of true crime is seeing the killer caught even if it’s been years. I really like it when the crucial clue turns up, when someone asks the right question, or when the killer messes up. I especially like the moment when the guilty verdict comes down and the killer faces justice. The Sun Down Motel, by Simone St. James, gave me a lot of those moments. Two women, in two different eras, are on the trail of a killer that the police have forgotten about in the strange little town of Fell, New York. Oh, and there are ghosts, to make things just that much more interesting.
In 1982, Viv Delaney has taken a job at the Sun Down Motel, a place on the edge of Fell, when she realizes that it’s going to cost more than planned to get all the way to New York. The job is a bit of luck, but things start to get strange almost immediately. First, Viv learns that several women have been brutally murdered in recent years. Second, she starts to see the ghosts of people whose deaths were connected to the motel. The second discovery leads Viv back to the first discovery; those ghosts are not resting in peace.
Decades later, Viv’s niece, Carly, arrives in Fell to find out what happened to her aunt. Viv disappeared in November of 1982. Because she was an adult and planning on moving to New York, no one really investigated. Carly and her mother have lived with not knowing what happened to Viv for far too long. As soon as Carly gets into town, she starts asking questions and following the few clues the Viv left behind. Before long, Carly and her new Fell friends are on the trail of the same killer Viv was trying to find.
The Sun Down Motel is packed with twists and turns. There are some moments of clumsy writing (hints of a love triangle, Viv and Carly not being quite different enough so I kept losing track of which character I was reading), but the mysteries in this novel kept me entertained throughout. I really liked how St. James used the supernatural to keep things moving and to maintain the suspense. The ending more than makes up for the clumsiness, even though I started to suspect how things would conclude a few chapters out. I don’t want to ruin things, so I’ll end by saying that the climax and ending of this book are deeply satisfying.