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Review: Author keeps tension high in `The Sun Down Motel'

“The Sun Down Motel,” Berkley, by Simone St. James Author Simone St. James knows that true terror, as she effectively illustrates in “The Sun Down Motel,” goes beyond things that go bump in the night. For one character, real horror is “so complete it was a wash of sensation crawling up her back and burrowing into her stomach, like cold hands on her neck and cotton in her throat.”

The Sun Down Motel - the site of all this terror - looks like so many nondescript motels that litter the countryside, barely worth a second glance, the kind people check into only out of desperation.

St. James deftly melds an engrossing mystery with a tense supernatural thriller for a family drama, a ghost story and a tale of a decaying town affected by that hotel, “a place that’s never been wanted from the first,” Cogdill says.

At one time, the town of Fell was poised to be a thriving destination in upstate New York. But a planned amusement park never got off the ground and myriad deaths occurred. Fell is where Viv Delaney ended up in 1982, sidetracked on her way to becoming an actress in New York City. Broke, without options and unable to return to her small Illinois hometown, Viv ends up in Fell, working the late-night shift at The Sun Down. No one is around, yet she smells smoke, and doors open and slam shut, lights go out without warning and occasionally she feels the presence of someone behind her — “Something real, but not a real person.”

Then one night, Viv disappears, leaving her car, purse and other belongings. Carly Kirk knows very little about her aunt, Viv, only that she disappeared 35 years ago from Fell, and that she worked at The Sun Down Motel. Viv was 20 years old when she vanished, the same age as Carly. Adrift after her mother’s death, Carly makes it her mission to travel to Fell to find out what happened to Viv. She ends up finding a roommate, Heather, who lives in Viv’s old apartment and begins working the graveyard shift at The Sun Down Motel while researching the 1980s to try to figure out what happened. She learns that a number of young women have been murdered in Fell, a subject that also fascinates Heather. “Some like it dark,” explains Heather.

St. James keeps the tension high with myriad surprising twists as she alternates between the voices of Carly and Viv. As their stories converge, Carly feels “the thin shimmer of time between me and her. In Fell, that shimmer seemed to barely exist.” No matter how often those lights go out — or how many ghosts appear — St. James will have you believing in the supernatural.

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