“Lost Among The Living” by Simone St. James is a haunting story. As with her previous books, the plot takes place in England during the 1920s and examines the challenges brought upon to those living in the post World War I era. The novel is a great combination of many genres, a riveting historical fiction intertwined with a murder mystery and a touch of the paranormal.
Both fans of gothic stories and non-fans can enjoy this book. The plot has several factors that the gothic genre is known for, including a haunted house, a ghost with something to say, an independent, isolated heroine, and family secrets. Yet, the gothic portion does not dominate, allowing the reader to delve into the mystery and characters without being hit over the head by the ghostly presence. From the very first chapter people will be engaged with the characters and storyline.
The plot begins with Jo and Alex knowing from their first date it was love at first sight. They had a blissful marriage until the outbreak of World War I. Jo is notified that Alex is missing in action, leaving her status in limbo. She is neither a married woman nor a widow and is not entitled to any benefits. Her grief is compounded by having to put her insane mother in a private mental institution. In need of money she accepts Alex aunt’s proposal to be a traveling companion and later a secretary at Dottie’s Wych Elm House. It is there that Jo feels the presence of Dotti’s daughter Fran who supposedly committed suicide. Jo starts to believe that Fran might have been murdered as she unravels clues provided by an unknown force.
Because World War I had such an impact, even with its aftermath, St. James commented, “We have the image of the 1920s as everything being fun and everyone was partying, yet World War I was devastating to that generation. I touch on the concept of mental illness in most of my books as a recurring theme. This ties back to the gothic novel. Back then there were harsh reactions with no understanding of what people have gone through. There was no desire to help them. In my third book I wrote about an insane asylum where men who fought in World War I and had PTSD were put away.”
She also wants the reader to feel for those who have someone missing in action, noting, “I liked the quote, ‘trapped in amber,’ because she was not a widow or a married woman. I also put in the quote, ‘Women don’t have a great many choices in such a situation.’ In those days a woman had very limited options.”
The characters are well developed. Jo’s situation as the wife of an MIA is explored brilliantly, reminding the reader how the family is affected by having someone disappear during combat. Although living a hard life Jo never gives up. She is courageous, brave, intelligent, and resourceful. Aunt Dottie, although grim, demanding and materialistic, is also practical, compassionate, and helpful. Through flashbacks and memories Alex is seen as caring, smart, and heroic.
Readers will not only enjoy the suspense of the story but will learn some facts of the times including how women were treated, the creation of of MI5, and society’s view of those who have gone “mad.”
If readers wonder about the British spy details, St. James told blackfive.net, “All true. The MI5 archives were opened up in the last twenty years or so. Since then, there have been several histories. I read some books about the British spy agency and put that information into this book. Before World War I there was a worry that the Germans would invade England. They needed people to help spy for them and report back. Since there was no training, they were on their own and reported back by writing letters.”
“Lost Among The Living” is a very interesting read that has the reader glued to the pages. The blending of different genres makes the story even more interesting.