During a recent trip to Barnes & Noble, I hit the Buy Two & Get A Third Book Free table of recent releases. THE BROKEN GIRLS piqued my curiosity.
I mean, who doesn’t love a good ghost story and murder mystery in one?
It certainly checked a lot of boxes for this reader:
- Cops (I love a man in uniform)
- A Romance or Two or Three
Title is linked to Amazon and there are no spoilers ahead:
From the Back Cover:
Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants—the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall, and local legend says the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming—until one of them mysteriously disappears….
Vermont, 2014. Twenty years ago, journalist Fiona Sheridan’s elder sister’s body was found in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And although her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of the murder, Fiona can’t stop revisiting the events, unable to shake the feeling that something was never right about the case.
When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during renovations links the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past—and a voice that won’t be silenced….
Narrating the present day, Fiona Sheridan is a bit of an unreliable narrator. She definitely has some issues with the (younger) man in her life, Jaime, who also happens to be a third-generation law enforcement officer in their smallish town.
While many women in the mid to late-thirties might be thinking marriage and the baby carriage, Fiona is a commitment-phobe completely preoccupied with her sister’s murder.
So much so, the woman can’t even sign on for a full-time career as a journalist. Instead, she takes freelance work where she can get it, usually on her father’s coattails–the great Malcolm Sheridan had been an award-winning photojournalist, although now doddering old widower who misses his glory days is a more apt description.
And then the narrative flashes the reader back by way of alternating chapters that are told in turn by each of four principal characters who attended the boarding school as girls in 1950.
As each girl tells her own story–one has even spent time in a Nazi Germany death camp, another ghost story from a bygone time emerges, and then one by one, each of the four becomes part of the hellish legend that is Idlewild.
In THE BROKEN GIRLS, author St. James created an atmospheric story but dropped the ball in engaging the reader. She wanted this book to do way too much and, in the end, couldn’t pull it off.
Had the author stuck to the story of the four girls at Idlewild in 1950, she’d have had an intriguing ghost story and a murder mystery, but without the slow, plodding, and sometimes painful present day story-line.
Worst of all, this reader could solve the who-dunnit part of the story much too easily. With a cliched villain, it wasn’t too difficult.
One final thought: Perhaps St. James could have pulled off such an unwieldy story by introducing Fiona at the beginning, flashing back to the past, and bringing it back to Fiona at the end–much the way Kristin Hannah told her fabulous WWII historical family saga of THE NIGHTINGALE.
Fiona wasn’t a likable narrator at all but could have simply been a springboard for the reader into the past.
Bottom line: This book needed a heavy-handed, conceptual editor. THE BROKEN GIRLS is a broken book.
Foxy Rating Scale – Two out of Five Foxes
Thanks for reading!