By Leslie Lindsay
A chilling and disturbing tale of secrets, friendship, justice and…a ghost at an abandoned boarding school for girls…
I tore through THE BROKEN GIRLS. It has all the elements I absolutely adore in a book: great, atmospheric writing, a gutsy protagonist, an old decaying building, secrets, mysteries and a ghostly haunt.
Told in alternating POVs–and time periods–(1950s and 2014), THE BROKEN GIRLS is a break-out suspense novel from the award-winning author of THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE. If you’ve read that one, you’ll see how the style is similar, yet different. This one is more suspenseful, more action-driven, but the writing is just as good .
I love how St. James resurrects the history of the land where the old boarding house sits. The story is definitely eerie and unsettling, but handled in such a realistic and believable way. What if ghosts were really just manifestations of things that haunt you and not something beyond your control? THE BROKEN GIRLS touches on just that.
Throw in a cold murder case from 1994, a sleuthing journalist sister looking for justice, a dash of romance (but not too much), and the restoration project of that old boarding school. And why, why does the old garden plot smell so rancid?
“Vivid, riveting, and thoroughly unforgettable.”
— Deanna Raybourn, New York Times bestselling author of the Veronica Speedwell series
Today, I am super-excited to share an excerpt from THE BROKEN GIRLS.
Grab your favorite reading comforts and settle in.
The sun vanished below the horizon as the girl crested the rise of Old Barrons Road. Night, and she still had three miles to go.
The air here went blue at dusk, purplish and cold, a light that blurred details as if looking through smoke. The girl cast a glance back at the road where it climbed the rise behind her, squinting, the breeze tousling her hair and creeping through the thin fabric of her collar, but no one that she could see was following.
Still: Faster, she thought.
She hurried down the slope, her thick schoolgirl’s shoes pelting stones onto the broken road, her long legs moving like a foal’s as she kept her balance. She’d outgrown the gray wool skirt she wore—it hung above her knees now—but there was nothing to be done about it. She carried her uniform skirt in the suitcase that banged against her legs, and she’d be putting it back on soon enough.
If I’m lucky.
Stop it, stupid. Stupid.
Her palms were sweaty against the suitcase handle. She’d nearly dropped the case as she’d wrestled it off the bus in haste, perspiration stinging her back and armpits as she glanced up at the bus’s windows.
Everything all right? the driver had asked, something about the panic in a teenage girl’s face penetrating his disinterest.
Yes, yes— She’d given him a ghastly smile and a wave and turned away, the case banging her knees, as if she were bustling off down a busy city street and not making slow progress across a cracked stretch of pavement known only as the North Road. The shadows had grown long, and she’d glanced back as the door closed, and again as the bus drew away.
No one else had gotten off the bus. The scrape of her shoes and the far-off call of a crow were the only sounds. She was alone.
No one had followed.
She reached the bottom of the slope of Old Barrons Road, panting in her haste. She made herself keep her gaze forward. To look back would be to tempt it. If she only looked forward, it would stay away.
The cold wind blew up again, freezing her sweat to ice. She bent, pushed her body faster. If she cut through the trees, she’d travel an exact diagonal that would land her in the sports field, where at least she had a chance she’d meet someone on the way to her dorm. A shorter route than this one, which circled around the woods to the front gates of Idlewild Hall. But that meant leaving the road, walking through the trees in the dark. She could lose direction. She couldn’t decide.
Her heart gave a quick stutter behind her ribcage, then returned to its pounding. Exertion always did this to her, as did fear. The toxic mix of both made her lightheaded for a minute, unable to think. Her body still wasn’t quite right. Though she was fifteen, her breasts were small and she’d only started bleeding last year. The doctor had warned her there would be a delay, perfectly normal, a biological aftereffect of malnutrition. You’re young and you’ll recover, he’d said, but it’s hell on the body. The phrase had echoed with her for a while, sifting past the jumble of her thoughts. Hell on the body. It was darkly funny, even. When her distant relatives had peered at her afterward and asked what the doctor had said, she’d found herself replying: He said it’s hell on the body. At the bemused looks that followed, she’d tried to say something comforting: At least I still have all my teeth. They’d looked away then, these Americans who didn’t understand what an achievement it was to keep all your teeth. She’d been quiet after that.
Closer, now, to the front gates of Idlewild Hall. Her memories worked in unruly ways; she’d forget the names of half of the classmates she lived with, but she could remember the illustration on the frontispiece of the old copy of Blackie’s Girls’ Annual she’d found on a shelf in the dorm: a girl in a 1920’s low-waisted dress, walking a romping dog over a hillside, shading her eyes with her hand as the wind blew her hair. She had stared at that illustration so many times she’d had dreams about it, and she could recall every line of it, even now. Part of her fascination had come from its innocence, the clean milkiness of the girl in the drawing, who could walk her dog without thinking about doctors or teeth or sores or scabs or any of the other things she had buried in her brain, things that bobbed up to the surface before vanishing into the darkness again.
She heard no sound behind her, but just like that, she knew. Even with the wind in her ears and the sound of her own feet, there was a murmur of something, a whisper she must have been attuned to, because when she turned her head this time, her neck creaking in protest, she saw the figure. Cresting the rise she’d just come over herself, it started the descent down the road toward her.
No. I was the only one to get off the bus. There was no one else.
But she’d known, hadn’t she? She had. It was why she was already in a near-run, her knuckles and her chin going numb with cold. Now she pushed into a jog, her grip nearly slipping on the suitcase handle as the case banged against her leg. She blinked hard in the descending darkness, trying to make out shapes, landmarks. How far away was she? Could she make it?
She glanced back again. Through the fog of darkness, she could see a long black skirt, the narrow waist and shoulders, the gauzy sway of a black veil over the figure’s face moving in the wind. Unseen feet moving beneath the skirt’s hem. The details were visible now because the figure was closer—only moving at a walk, but already somehow closing in, closer every time she looked. The face behind the veil wasn’t visible, but the girl knew she was being watched, the hidden gaze fixed on her.
Panicked, she made an abrupt change of direction, leaving the road and plunging into the trees. There was no path, and she made her way slowly through thick tangles of brush, the dead stalks of weeds stinging her legs through her stockings. In seconds the view of the road behind her disappeared, and she guessed at her direction, hoping she was heading in a straight line toward the sports field. The terrain slowed her down, and sweat trickled between her shoulder blades, soaking into the cheap cotton of her blouse, which stuck to her skin. The suitcase was clumsy and heavy, and soon she dropped it in order to move more quickly through the woods. There was no sound but the harsh rasp of her own breathing.
Her ankle twisted, sent sharp pain up her leg, but still she ran. Her hair came out of its pins and branches scraped her palms as she pushed them from her face, but still she ran. Ahead of her was the old fence that surrounded Idlewild, rotted and broken, easy to get through. There was no sound from behind her. And then there was.
Mary Hand, Mary Hand, dead and buried under land…
Faster, faster. Don’t let her catch you.
She’ll say she wants to be your friend…
Ahead, the trees were thinning, the pearly light of the half moon illuminating the clearing of the sports field.
Do not let her in again!
The girl’s lungs burned, and a sob burst from her throat. She wasn’t ready. She wasn’t. Despite everything that had happened—or perhaps because of it. Her blood still pumped, her broken body still ran for its life. And in a moment of pure, dark clarity, she understood that all of it was for nothing.
She’d always known the monsters were real.
And they were here.
The girl looked into the darkness and screamed.
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE BROKEN GIRLS, please visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Simone St. James is the award-winning author of Lost Among the Living; The Other Side of Midnight; Silence for the Dead; An Inquiry into Love and Death, which was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel from Crime Writers of Canada; and The Haunting of Maddy Clare, which won two RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America and an Arthur Ellis Award from Crime Writers of Canada. She wrote her first ghost story, about a haunted library, when she was in high school, and spent twenty years behind the scenes in the television business before leaving to write full-time. Visit her online at SimoneStJames.com, Facebook.com/SimoneStJames and @Simone_StJames.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Email: email@example.com
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[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley Publishing Group and used with permission. Image of Blackie’s Girls’ Annuals retrieved from Abe Books , woman in black veil and vintage bus from Pinterest, no source noted. Abandoned road image retrieved from . Excerpt reprinted with permission from THE BROKEN GIRLS by Simone St. James from Berkley Publishing Group, copyright 2018]