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July 11, 2020

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James: Book Review

by Alison DeLuca

I've wanted to read Simone St. James' book, The Sun Down Motel, for months. The cover is gorgeous, a replica of dime-store pulp complete with worn edges and a kitschy motel sign blazing in front of a stormy sky.
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The Sun Down Motel fascinated me from the start. Its first chapter is set in the '80s when Viv, a refugee from Chicago, is about to enter the motel office for her shift at the front desk. She's thinking about the body of another girl who was found in Fell, a small upstate New York town where the Sun Down is located.

Front cover of The Sun Down Motel, showing a retro motel sign
And as Viv puts on her shift uniform, the door to 103 starts to bang open even though the room has been locked - and things continue to get creepier from that point.

The next chapter switches to the present when Carly (also escaping Chicago and her college term) heads to Fell to investigate her Aunt Viv's disappearance. From that point, the novel flips between the two women.

St. James drew me in with those characters, women who are mirrors of each other and who have left their lives behind for no particular reason. They're like autumn leaves, whirling across highways and state borders to land in Fell, where things are definitely not okay.

This concept reminded me of The Ancestor, Trusson's family drama laced with monstrous horror. However, Bert (Trusson's female protagonist) never came alive for me. The Ancestor was beautifully written with gorgeous descriptions, but while I could physically describe Bert, she had very little personality.

It's the opposite of Viv and Carly. To me they were real from the start,  runaways who have abandoned their futures for no good reason. They're also powerless, victims from the start of the novel who are both heading towards more serious victimization.

Sun Down's plot is an investigation into what actually happened the night Viv disappeared. Carly,  her roommate Heather (who is a delight) and Nick (a dark and brooding stranger) work to untangle the mystery and, in the process, discover herself.

If you like urban mysteries like Twin Peaks, this is a perfect book for the summer quarantine. I was unable to put it down, reading as I cooked for my family and prepped for yet another masked grocery run. Sun Down removed me from this little world and set me in another time and place - which is what I'm looking for from books these days.

Which novels have you discovered that do the same?

Buy The Sun Down Motel at Amazon

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Motels are perfect spots for drama with their constantly-shifting clientele and Twin Peaks vibe.

Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain. Currently, she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

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  1. I need to read this one soon!! I keep meaning to bump it up on my list! Awesome review!