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Khanh the Killjoy

An Inquiry Into Love and Death

An Inquiry Into Love and Death - Simone St. James A spectacularly atmospheric mystery and ghost story, set in post-WWI England. The story and characters are worthy of being compared with the Bess Crawford/Ian Rutledge books by Charles Todd, which is pretty much the highest recommendation I can give to a book in this genre.It is 1924, and 22-year old Jillian Leigh is of the odd new breed of academic-minded young ladies in England (a terrifying sort, for sure). She comes from an academic line, her father is a worldreknowned chemist, her mother his assistant before they fell in love. Following in their academic footsteps, she is studying at Oxford University, at the all-female Sumerton college, where she and her fellow classmates spend much of their time with their noses buried in books and not much time for anything else. Jillian suddenly receives the news of her uncle's death. Toby is the black sheep of the family, having decided to pursue a career in the ridiculed field of ghost-hunting, and as such, Toby has been estranged from her family for eight years.Jillian is called upon to identify his body, since her parents are in Paris, and soon upon her arrival in the village where he died, she meets an inspector from Scotland Yard who tells her that Toby's death is deemed to be suspicious; it is likely to be a murder. Jillian finds herself drawn into the mystery, despite her best intentions. She survives murder attempts, some terrifying ghostly encounters, and tries to figure out the remaining clues found in her uncle's journals... for instance...who is Elizabeth?The 1920s have been my Achilles' heel. I hate flappers. I can't stand the Speakeasy Era. What makes these and other post-WWI books tolerable is the complete lack of slang and other (failed) attempts that other authors have made in a vague aspiration to sound authentic. This book lacks all those mentioned qualities that I hate. It is just a beautifully written ghost story and compelling mystery that is terrifying at times. The description of the local ghost, Walking John, and his haunting had me shivering, and actually gave me nightmares last night. There's something about his imprint, two footsteps in the dirt with a deep imprinted V between the toes that just scares me.I found the characters to be well-written and characterized. I found Jillian to be an excellent character. She is sheltered, academic, but reasonable and reacts well under every circumstance in which she encounters. She is not spoilt nor unreasonably foolish; while chasing ghosts (literally) she does not put herself into so much danger that one does not feel compelled to scream at her as one does with the poor virginal horror movie character to GET THE F*** OUT OF THE DAMN BASEMENT. I wish there were more characters like her in the mysteries I have read.The characters I disliked were the inspectors from Scotland Yard. We do not get much of Inspector Merriken's partner, but from what we see of him, he's a smirking asshole who doesn't really get too much done. Merriken himself is rather unlikeable. He can be compared to Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge, without the sympathy and attachment that one feels for Ian. They were both sons of barristers who suffer from the aftermaths of the war and the resultant PTSD, but while Ian suffers privately with his own ghosts, Drew Merriken drowns his in other women's beds. I feel he belittles Jillian, and takes advantage of her, however much he tries to redeem himself in the end. There is not so much depth as there is in a Charles Todd novel, in which the reader feels they get to know each person's soul. Miss St. James is not as talented a writer, but this book is thoroughly enjoyable, and I will be going back and reading her repertoire.