Silence for the Dead

Written by Simone St. James
Review by John Kachuba

In 1919, young Kitty Weeks is fleeing her past and her abusive father. Forging her credentials, she secures a nursing position at Portis House, a crumbling and isolated old mansion now turned into a hospital for shell-shocked veterans of the Great War. As if the veterans’ mental illnesses were not enough, there seems to be an unseen presence in the eerie house that also attacks them. Cold spots, strange noises, and a sickly ooze are only part of the patients’ torments. They are also tortured by the same terrifying dream which has driven some of them to attempt suicide.

Kitty discovers that one of the patients is Jack Yates, a handsome, decorated war hero who had become Britain’s poster-boy for the war effort. Whether he is truly mad or not is anyone’s guess, but Kitty allies herself with him in an effort to understand the mysterious events occurring at the hospital. An unexpected medical emergency leaves the couple and only a few patients to fend for themselves against the evil ghostly forces within the house which seem to be quickly gathering strength.

This is a chilling and suspenseful mystery with echoes of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Most of the characters in the novel suffer from emotional and mental disorders and are therefore unreliable narrators; are they really experiencing paranormal events or are these events products of their own fevered brains?

In novels featuring young nurses and shattered war veterans, a stereotypical trope is that the nurse will fall in love with one of her charges. It would have been a bold twist if Kitty and Jack teamed up together without the romance. Still, this is a well-told story and should not be missed by those readers that like their mysteries laced with the paranormal.