Title: The Broken Girls
Author: Simone St. James
Book 19 of 2021
Reading Time: 4hrs 14mins
Date Finished: June 27, 2021
Content Warnings: Murder, implied child abuse, gaslighting, WWII after-effects
What Worked For Me: Mild horror, two timelines, unexpected final twist
What Didn’t Work For Me: The romance, awkward police corruption, minor antagonists who were supposed to be major antagonists
I don’t remember how I came across my first Simone St. James book, but I think it was because of Audible? I have a tendency to download random books there because I have a ton of unused credits. So I scroll through the mystery genre until something catches my eye, which this one did. That being said, I didn’t listen to this. What ended up happening was that I found the book in a library near me and borrowed it from there.
A friend of mine (Charity over at @chairbrarian) had the book on her TBR so we decided to buddy read it. Our ambitious plans were quickly derailed as my reading slump re-emerged and her life got busy with work and school. Somehow, we both still finished the book within a few days of each other and then spent over an hour texting about our feelings.
Having gone into this without knowing much, I was surprised to see a minor horror element to the story. Somehow, I never heard about that before with any of Simone St. James’ work, so it took me by surprised. In a good way though, I did quite enjoy the horror bits except for the fact that it went really unexplained. It’s implied that some people experience it while others don’t, but we don’t ever find out what kind of people experience it or if the whole thing is just random. Not that horror really plays by a set list of rules, but it would have been nice to know.
The mystery is split into two timelines and two things - one that took place 15ish years ago and another that took place in the late 40s-early 50s. The more recent one resurfaces as something our main character, Fiona, is still trying to investigate because she’s unsure if the story she knows is the full story. As she digs, she finds out that another mystery took place at the same location that involved the dead body of a young girl.
For the most part, I quite enjoyed the story. Dual timelines are something I like in mysteries because it gets me wondering how everything will come together. The mystery itself was interesting, even if it was a little hard to figure out where the primary focus lay. Most of it revolves around the young girl who died, but there’s a subplot of Fiona trying to prove that the man who was arrested for her sister’s murder 15 years ago was really guilty. And while I thought it was interesting. This subplot often felt more important than the main plot of a young girl’s death.
I liked that things turned out differently from how I expected, though one death resolution felt like it came out of left field. It wasn’t a bad reveal, it just felt like lead-up to that moment was a bit clumsy and could have tied into the story at an earlier point in time. We did get sprinkles of hints here and there, but I had expected something entirely different and this particular reveal fell flat for me.
A really random subplot that happens while Fiona is investigating her sister’s murder and the truth around it is the police corruption in her town. Not only did it feel kind of random and stilted, it was really mild until suddenly it was a much bigger deal than it had to be. Both Charity and I felt thrown off by this, which we discussed after both finishing the book. It’s not that discussions of police corruption aren’t necessary, but with two other crime related plotlines so heavily at the center of the book, this one felt like it was the awkward third wheel. It also made for an resolution scene where I burst into laughter at what was supposed to be an intimidating moment.
Romance wise…not my favorite. It’s an age gap romance and I’m generally not a fan of those (thank you, Pretty Little Liars for scarring me with how much the writers justified Ezria being okay), but it also felt like the two characters had no chemistry. They were together for the sake of being together and because no one else really wanted to date them when they met. Reading about how they struggled to make things work felt strange, because it didn’t really make any sense why things were working in the first place. Not that I don’t think it could, but maybe a little bit of attraction and intellectual chemistry would help?
In the end, I quite liked it as my first Simone St. James book and buddy read that wasn’t for school. Mystery with a blend of light horror isn’t what I usually gravitate toward, but I enjoyed that element in this book. This is the kind of story I’d start someone out with if they’re transition from YA mystery to adult mystery, as it has a bit of both due to character ages and events.