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The Sun Down Motel


The Sun Down Motel

In late 1982, 20-year-old Vivian Delaney set out on her own. She figured it was time to spread her wings. Her mother didn’t necessarily agree. What would you do if you ever saw real trouble? Viv didn’t give that much thought, but now she’s about to find out. A hitched ride with a trucker lands her on the side of the road in front of the Sun Down Motel on the outskirts of Fell, New York. Exhausted, she decides to use some of her precious dollars for a room. Instead, she ends up with a job as the motel’s night clerk. She was on her way to New York City, but she can put off that dream for a little longer.

Fell is a small town; there is nothing really extraordinary about it. Viv expected it to be a sleepy place, which suited her just fine. She also thought that being the night clerk at the anything-but-posh Sun Down would provide her with some quiet time. She was wrong on both counts. The motel at night comes wildly alive, with strange sounds and visions, flickering lights and weird smells. Mostly the guests who check in are hookers, drug dealers and people who don’t want to be seen elsewhere. The others who are there --- well, they can’t be real, even though they are plainly visible.

"Simone St. James skillfully guides her readers into the dark hours of the night where the past haunts the Sun Down Motel, almost begging them to solve the mystery..."

Viv has moved in with a young woman who gives her the rundown on several murdered local girls, too many for a town the size of Fell. Are their spirits haunting the Sun Down? Even entertaining such an idea has Viv shaking her head. That’s crazy! Nonetheless, curiosity grabs hold of her, and she becomes obsessed with investigating the deaths. The local cops have not connected the cases, which seems absurd to Viv, although finding a common thread eludes her, too. Then, early one November morning, she goes missing.

Thirty-five years later, Viv’s niece Carly Kirk arrives in Fell, determined to solve the mystery of her aunt’s disappearance. As luck --- or something far different from luck --- would have it, the Sun Down Motel needs a night clerk. Why not? Carly thinks. It will certainly put her squarely where she needs to be. She can snoop without raising suspicions. At least, she hopes. As she traces Viv’s steps in her last days, she befriends a young woman named Heather, the current resident of her aunt’s one-time apartment. They hit it off, and Heather becomes a font of information about the long-ago murders, which have remained unsolved. Carly appreciates any help she can find.

The motel is an enigma; time seems to have stopped there. Its clientele has not improved significantly since the days that her aunt worked there, but Carly manages to stay alert and begins to see some of what her aunt saw more than three decades ago. Over a period of several years, young women died in Fell, but the murders seemingly stopped when Viv disappeared.

Did she have a chance to leave an explanation behind? Why didn’t the cops ever find her body? She was gone, but her car and belongings stayed behind. So who took her? Despite warnings to leave it alone, Carly becomes an unstoppable force. But she has a huge surprise awaiting her.

Told in chapters alternating between 1982 and 2017, the story of Fell’s murders unfolds. Two amateur sleuths, decades apart, one solution. Simone St. James skillfully guides her readers into the dark hours of the night where the past haunts the Sun Down Motel, almost begging them to solve the mystery, let the tired old building finally die in peace, and allow its unsettled spirits to rest.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on February 28, 2020

The Sun Down Motel
by Simone St. James