Title: The Sun Down Motel
Author: Simone St. James
Book 23 of 2021
Reading Time: 4hrs 9mins
Date Finished: September 9, 2021
Content Warnings: Homophobic slurs, mental illness, murder
What Worked For Me: Dual timeline, paranormal subplot, twists
What Didn’t Work For Me: Age gap romance, “quirky” MC
After reading The Broken Girls earlier in the year, I wanted to pick up the other Simone St. James book that I’d heard a lot about. Reading the synopsis, this one was a bit more interesting to me because it centers around several women who have disappeared from a small town, never to be seen again. They were presumed runaways or missing, but our main character Carly wants to know more. Her aunt Viv was one of the women who disappeared and she wants to know why.
Right off the bat, I got major vibes of one of my favorite episodes of Teen Wolf ever - Motel California (S3E6). In my opinion, it’s one of the best episodes the show ever did and I’ve watched it on its own a few times. Creepy motel, suspicious deaths and disappearances, something paranormal happening behind the scenes, it all matches up. Even one of the side character names that we see in this motel matches a villain name from that season of Teen Wolf. As far as I can tell, it’s entirely coincidental, but I thought it was a cool little moment (hence the episode screen grab in my review picture).
The motel really set the scene and became a character of its own. I loved how atmospheric this book was, making everything feel creepier and more mysterious as Carly investigated her aunt’s disappearance. All the little details that went into making the place unsettling worked. I was unsettled in the safety of my bed, hugging my stuffed animals close for extra protection. Atmosphere is one of those things that can make or break a mystery like this, and for me, it made it.
You may have noticed in my other reviews that I tend to like dual timelines in books. Whether that me mystery or other genres, I think it adds something to the story when we see different people dealing with something surrounding the plot. Of course, it has to be done well to make sense, which was the case here. I loved the parallels in the timelines - Viv in the past and Carly in the present. It was almost like a roadmap. A chapter in the past would foreshadow something in the present, or an event from the present would trigger a revelation from the past. The dual timelines complimented each other perfectly and made for a richer overall story than if it had only been told in one timeline.
Something that did frustrate me a bit about Carly in the present was that she was supposed to come off as super “quirky” due to her love of true crime, but it didn’t work. Supposedly, the story of Viv’s disappearance made her want to find answers and became the moment she loved true crime. But for someone who loved it to the the point of being called weird by classmates, she didn’t know how to search for information online, left her fingerprints everywhere, and had little instinct for solving the mystery. Basics that most people would know went totally over her head and she had to be reminded not to do things like leave behind evidence or touch things without gloves. Besides, loving true crime is no longer considered a “quirky” thing.
That past though? I loved reading from Viv’s perspective as she experienced all the weird things going on at the Sun Down Motel and saw the pattern in missing girls. It felt realistic, how much she wanted to solve things and catch the bad guy when the police clearly weren’t doing enough. Her reactions to all the sketchy things going on at the motel often set the tone for me to know if something would become important again later.
There was a small romance in this book too. Another age gap romance that I wasn’t a big fan of. I’m really just not into age-gap romances where the people are in drastically different stages of life because someone will always want more. It’s hard to make it work without it being creepy on some level either. At least in this case, Carly was already 20 and not still a teenager. It still doesn’t make me feel great that her love interest was almost a decade older than her, but I suppose it’s less creepy than it could have been if she were any younger.
Lastly, I quite liked how things wrapped up. There was something about the ending that I wish had more explanation, but considering that this spanned two timelines and was only 326 pages, I can see why it wasn’t as fleshed out. I don’t think it’s something other people would be bothered by because it doesn’t do a lot to affect the plot. My curiosity and love of true crime are the main reasons I wanted a more in-depth explanation, something else to analyze and see if it matches up with all the things I’ve learned from 15+ years of mystery reading.
Simone St. James books are what I would recommend to people looking to ease into the mystery genre. They’re not super intense, not super dark, and are quite easy to read. Even having read as many mysteries as I have, I found this one really enjoyable. It reminds me a lot of the mysteries that got me to fall in love with the genre as a child.
I’m already eagerly awaiting her next book - The Book of Cold Cases - coming out March 15, 2022. It features another dual timeline, more hints of paranormal stuff, and a true crime blogger. I know it’s going to be one of the books I buy this year, even if I have to get it all the way from the US because Singapore only does paperbacks.