35. Silence for the Dead – Simone St. James
Although this book is basically a romantic ghost story and I was expecting just a ghost story, its subject matter is oddly prescient for the Memorial Day holiday during a pandemic.
It’s 1919, Kitty Weekes lies and gets hired as a nurse at Portis House. It’s in the middle of nowhere and takes care of shell-shocked soldiers. But…are they really shell-shocked or are they just being hidden by their families and plagued by those who haunt that house? Are the ghosts related to the family that built the house who also completely disappeared? Why is the library so seriously depressing as to change the mood of everyone who goes over by it? Why is that one patient never at dinner?
Well, since Kitty has no idea how to be a nurse and she’s dealing with lots of very sensitive patients and also working the night shift with little opportunity for sleep (which is very hard, let me tell you), it takes her very little time to make everything go topsy-turvy. She uncovers that the patient who doesn’t come to dinner is the war hero mascot who gave many rousing speeches for the press to inspire everyone to endure the war. He’s got panache and he’s apparently also a madman (self-labeled) and Kitty the not a nurse keeps falling into his room and telling him things she wouldn’t tell anyone else. To be fair, I also know someone who used to be in the army who has that effect, but, does not self-label as a madman.
Anyway, it’s a good thing for Kitty that a lot of the patients aren’t really in need of constant nursing. Several clearly have PTSD symptoms, which makes perfect sense, and one has apparently embarrassed his wealthy family by losing his legs so they put him here rather than endure the shame of having a hero who sacrificed actual limbs for the cause in their midst. In this story, their illnesses involve a lot of shame being put on them that they never should have had to even hear about. And it’s institutionalized to make money- because of course it is.
Thankfully, once the ghosts truly get going, most of the soldiers/patients learn how functional they really are, are allowed to remember themselves as people with will, and then lots of the staff and soldiers come down with the flu – the baddest of influenza – and Kitty realizes she has also learned something from the other nursing staff in addition to the madman/war hero mascot and got it together. Phew.
The other book I’ve read by Simone St. James also involved ghosts and certain spaces causing certain morose feelings, but there wasn’t a romance element. This was a good read overall, it just wasn’t as engaging as the other for someone with my taste because I kept rolling my eyes and thinking about fraternization and boundaries and service and why can’t people just work together and also keep those boundaries like they’re supposed to? It’s not like the ghosts would have left if there was no damseling. They had their own jobs in that house replaying their shitty history.