Portis House was once a manor house at the edge of the land and is now home to over a dozen shell-shocked former soldiers of the Great War. The house is isolated from any neighbors or nearby communities. It is to Portis House where a young woman, Katharine (Kitty) Weekes, runs away to after being hired on as a nurse. Kitty is a mystery and guards her secrets well. From her entry into the private hospital, she quickly discovers everyone at Portis House seems to hide their own secrets. Such is the beginning of Simone St. James’ mesmerizing novel, Silence for the Dead.
Silence for the Dead begins seemingly slow. The reader is aware from the outset that Kitty Weekes is hiding a mystery. I was anxious to know what it was that Kitty was running from and what was so bad that she ran to an isolated mental hospital. St. James craftily creates tension from the first page of her novel and builds upon that pressure throughout. I drifted from curiosity as to Weekes’ intentions to a desire to understand why any of these characters hide at Portis House. Even the patients housed at the hospital appear to be in hiding.
As I pondered the intentions of each character, I also worried for some. Nurse (Martha) Beachcombe appears young and naïve. Nurse (Nina) Shouldice is guarded and uses her weariness as a shield. The patients also have their vulnerabilities. Archie Childress befriends, in a way, Nurse Kitty Weekes and introduces her vicariously to the patients and staff of Portis House, but Archie has periods of anti-social tendencies. Captain Mabry seems outwardly stable but is prone to fits according to the staff. Each of the patients grows in depth as the reader delves into each man’s nature. Then there is the mystery of Patient Sixteen who seems to be the most curious of the group; he is a man secreted away and only those with clearance can see him.
St. James expertly weaves the stories of her characters together with overlaying hints of mystery and menace. The atmosphere of Silence for the Dead is saturated with an eeriness that pervades both Portis House and its grounds. There are noises in the walls. Things are falling apart. The kitchen staff will not go into the dark corners of the basement where the coal is stored. The patients’ nights are increasingly interrupted by dreams. Through it all, Kitty Weekes is inquisitive despite her own forewarnings and seeks the answers to the riddles haunting all at Portis House.
Silence for the Dead is an engrossing read. St. James’ novel is vivid, atmospheric, and well written. It grabbed my attention and didn’t let go. This was an entertaining novel that satisfied my need for a good story mixed with a deep mystery.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by NAL. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.