Review: The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James


Hardcover, 336 pages
Expected publication: February 18th 2020 by Berkley
0440000173 (ISBN13: 9780440000174)
Edition Language
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The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn’t right at the Sun Down, and before long she’s determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden


Something about a roadside motel is attractive to me. Maybe it is because of my family vacations growing up, where my father used to try to find the cheapest deal, and this meant we traveled more during off seasons, stopped at places that were locally owned, and some of them were, quite honestly, a little ratty. I remember a few where even when I was a teenager, I thought, “This place is a dump.” Maybe it is because when I got out of high school, got my first job, and had my first real sexual relationship, I rented rooms in these types of motels. There were three in the area, none of them no longer in existence. The Kokomotel was a place where you could buy drugs, specifically crack and meth. The Flamingo Motel was a place mostly occupied weekly by immigrants because it was equal distance from a ketchup making factory and a potato chip factory. And the Red Carpet Motel (which did not have red carpet) was the place where people went to kill themselves. I frequented all three of them at various times because it was cheap, there were no parents in the way, and I was all about having a good time. Or maybe my attraction is because of Psycho, a story that I have loved for years and years. I know there are reasons why people are attracted to certain things, types of place and types of stories, but a motel is one of those settings where I instantly am hooked into the story.


“The Sun Down Motel” is no different. The novel is laid out in parallel stories from 1982 and 2017, both set in the same location, and many of the characters being the same. Because many of the characters are ghosts haunting the motel. A ghost story set in a run down motel is really hitting all of the buttons for me, and through most of this novel, I am in love with the story, the atmosphere, and the characters. It reads really fast, and I was moving through this novel quickly. What kind of grinds the story down some is the parallel storytelling, the events of 1982 happening at the same time as the characters in 2017 are learning about these events so it is almost as if the story is being told twice, throughout the entire book. By the end, this structure is tiring, but also by that time, the mysteries are being solved. I expected this novel to be a ghost story, but I did not expect it to turn so much into a mystery. This is fine, but some of the plot turns (not going into any spoilers but mostly in the 2017 timeline) just become too much. There could have been a heartbreaking book here that instead turned into more of a Hollywood ending. The concept throughout this novel, with all of the characters, is that the motel is a hub for people trying to escape. Even the title, the Sun Down Motel, is just one letter away from the Run Down Motel, which describes the motel’s general state, but also the state of the characters. Every single person who is part of the motel has a history, and that history is something they are running from. Whether it causes them to meet up with someone to cheat or sneak away from their family to binge drink, there is not a single character that spends any time at the Sun Down Motel, that is not running from some sort of sadness. This causes the motel to trap this sadness, trap these feelings, and this is the energy that runs all of the paranormal activity. I like this idea, and I think Simone St. James does a great job most of the way through.


I will recommend this to everyone. It is a great novel, and I love the motel. I can wish for most ghosts. I can wish for different endings. But the truth is that it is also great the way it is. 

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