The Book of Cold Cases is a Haunting Tale About Facing Ghosts

Books Reviews Simone St. James
The Book of Cold Cases is a Haunting Tale About Facing Ghosts

Simone St. James took the book community by storm with The Sun Down Motel in 2020, and she’s back with another chilling tale in The Book of Cold Cases. Meshing a haunted house story with a true crime mystery centered on a serial killer, St. James’ latest will hook readers until the very end.

The novel opens with Shea Collins, a receptionist by day and blogger by night. She runs a website called The Book of Cold Cases, where she digs into unsolved crimes. Her hobby doesn’t get her noticed until Beth Greer stumbles into the doctor’s office where she works. Thirty years earlier, Beth was arrested for two murders that shook the small town of Claire Lake, Oregon to its core.

Although Beth was acquitted of any wrongdoing, most people in Shea’s hometown still know her as the Lady Killer. The Lady Killer murders saw two men, seemingly innocent of any wrongdoing, left for dead on the side of the road. Both were shot by a woman who left notes to taunt the police. Even stranger, the gun linked to those crimes killed Beth’s father years earlier.

When Shea approaches Beth, the latter agrees to share her side of the story—a surprising development given her longstanding silence over the years since the crimes took place. That sends The Book of Cold Cases’ lead down a rabbit hole, where every answer is met with even more questions.

And the endless mysteries surrounding the Lady Killer murders are the novel’s primary strength, keeping readers engaged from open to close. Even as you begin putting the pieces of Beth’s story together, there are more gaps to fill in. The why and how of the whole affair prove just as important (and fascinating) as the truth behind who committed the crimes.

That truth doesn’t necessarily absolve Beth, but it sheds light on a woman whose public persona has been twisted by the media. Shea’s project—as well as the chapters written from Beth’s perspective—reveals how much the press can shape a high-profile case like the Lady Killer murders. And St. James does an excellent job exploring the role sexism can play in such scenarios, whether they’re taking place in 2017 or 1977.

In fact, misogyny and the everyday horrors women are subjected to play a central role in Beth’s family secrets. All roads lead back to this intangible villain, with The Book of Cold Cases offering subtle political commentary alongside a suspenseful mystery.

But while Beth’s secrets may take center stage in The Book of Cold Cases, Shea isn’t exactly an open book either. She regularly alludes to a terrible incident that took place when she was nine, during which she nearly became a murder victim herself. There’s less mystery surrounding Shea’s trauma, but it still leaves plenty to unpack. It also draws an interesting parallel between her and Beth, both of whom are facing the ghosts of their pasts.

Of course, the supernatural elements of this story also see the pair confronting spirits in a literal sense. Unfortunately, that’s where the novel struggles most: in striking a balance between its serial killer storyline and the terrors within the Greer mansion. Those horrors make themselves known during Shea’s first trip to Beth’s lifelong home, and they play a pivotal role in the novel’s climax.

However, The Book of Cold Cases doesn’t lean into the supernatural enough to satisfy. The scenes that tease what’s behind the curtain at the Greer mansion are every bit as chilling as they should be. Yet they often feel mildly out of place, unbalanced against the murder investigation underway. The book would benefit from a greater equilibrium between those two storylines.

Still, the author does a solid job of connecting the murders with the apparitions at the Greer mansion. It all comes together in a way that enables Shea and Beth to confront the things holding them back. In some ways, it even pushes both characters toward growth.

Despite its dark themes, The Book of Cold Cases offers a surprisingly hopeful message after all the tragedy that unfolds within its 300-plus pages. It’s not often you can find a thriller that walks the line between multiple types of horror, all while working in storylines about coping and overcoming trauma. For that alone, St. James’ latest is worth keeping on your radar.

The Book of Cold Cases is available now.

Amanda Mullen is a pop culture writer who can usually be found juggling her never-ending Netflix queue with the pile of books she needs to read. You can find her gushing about all things entertainment @peaksandpages on Twitter.

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