While I’ve been lurking and getting book ideas, I have had a terrible time focusing enough to write up any of the (few) books I’ve actually managed to finish – I blame the pandemic. The Sun Down Motel, by Simone St. James, sat on my shelf for at least a week before I peeked at it, but once I peeked, I was hooked! The plot follows two women, one a night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in 1982 and the other the current night clerk, and switches between stories and timelines.
Carly, the current clerk, is the niece of Viv, who vanished while working in 1982. Viv is drawn into investigating a mystery involving several missing and murdered women because of eerie encounters at the motel. Carly, who is cast adrift when her mother, Viv’s sister, dies, comes to Fell, NY, to try to unravel the mystery of her aunt’s disappearance. Both women observe potential supernatural events at the motel (paralleled in the narrative), which may be actual experiences or may be cognitive impairment from working on the night shift.
The mystery of the murdered and missing women is resolved rather unsatisfactorily – it involves some pretty big assumptions and then a lot of stalking; this wasn’t the most compelling part of the novel for me. Despite my frustration with the detective work, I enjoyed Viv and her interactions with a local photographer and the first woman on the Fell police force. St. James introduced a threatening character in Carly’s timeline that just didn’t work for me, so while I enjoyed most of the book, I found the ending less engaging. I very much appreciated the way St. James used the motel to symbolize what the families of the missing and murdered women endure – years going by with no resolution. For example, Viv and Carly wear the same polyester vests; the pool remains fenced off and closed, but not filled in; and the flickering sign advertises VACANCY. CABLE TV! VACANCY. CABLE TV! This is a fun, chilling, atmospheric read that captures beautifully how strange and frightening and freeing it might be to work the night shift.