I enjoy a good Gothic novel, and I was intrigued by An Inquiry Into Love and Death as soon as I first heard about it. After reading it, I can report that it is indeed a good Gothic novel, and fans of the genre should definitely check it out.
Jillian Leigh’s life as an Oxford student is interrupted when her uncle Toby dies in a fall from a cliff in the remote village of Rothewell. With Jillian’s parents out of the country, settling Toby’s affairs falls to Jillian.
Toby was a ghost hunter and had traveled to Rothewell to investigate the ghost of a smuggler, Walking John, who is reputed to haunt the village. His death is a mystery. Did he fall by accident? Did he commit suicide? Or was he murdered? Jillian’s inquiries in Rothewell uncover mysteries both mundane and supernatural in this spooky, twisty novel.
Jillian is a quirky, endearing character and I liked her from the start. She’s a rational woman but able to open her mind to the paranormal when it becomes obvious that it exists. She has the emotional strength to hold out for what she wants in a relationship, even when it breaks her heart. And of all the random details, I found myself charmed by her “studying outfit” which sounded like just the sort of odd mélange of clothing I might wear for the same purpose.
Her love interest is also a three-dimensional creation, and I have to commend Simone St. James for actually making me buy into the development of a character who initially seems insufferably arrogant and becomes likable as his layers are peeled away. Usually I continue to dislike this type of character even after I’m supposed to start liking him, but this time it works.
St. James also gives a great sense of the 1920s period in which the novel is set. For example, pretty much everyone in the book is haunted by the First World War in one way or another. (One bad character is so distressed by premonitions of the next war that it briefly gives the reader a pang of sympathy for him — until we learn what he’s doing about that information.) It’s also a time when women’s roles were beginning to change, but the change was not yet complete.
The prose is just flowery enough to enhance the sense of the Gothic, without being overwhelming or overly portentous. I enjoyed the writing and felt that it suited the story.
An Inquiry Into Love and Death kept me up late turning the pages (or the e-pages, technically) and I had a lot of fun reading it. I will definitely be looking up Simone St. James’s earlier novel, The Haunting of Maddy Clare.