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I had a really exhausting and infinitely dorky work week and by Friday, all I wanted was comfort food and a good, gripping but easy read. Food came in form of wonderful Prawn Coconut Curry and White Rice (one of my most favorite dishes ever, cooked by an indulging and tolerant best friend cum flatmate cum Masterchef!) There was also some lovely red wine for indulgence and now all I had to do was select a good book and escape from the real world! I was not in a mood to indulge into a Byatt  or a history of Byzantine or World War II based fiction; I needed needed a good old yarn – a dam good story. Therefore, I picked something which has lain quietly in my Kindle for some time – The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James.

Sarah Piper is leading a lonely existence in 1920’s London, working as a secretary on temporary assignments, residing in a boarding house. She is now out of job and soon shall be out of all her money, when she gets an assignment to work as an assistant with a writer named Allister Gellis. In her very first meeting with Gellis , a rich, handsome war veteran, Sarah realizes that her new work would be more than just taking short hand and typing letters. In fact Allister Gellis is academic researching ghosts and other such supernatural phenomena and his current assignment specifically requires a female assistant, since this ghost – Maddy Clare, seems to get violent in the presence of men. Sarah’s task is to understand the reason for Maddy’s haunting and gather evidence about her presence to enable Gellis to write his book. With the strongest skepticism and doubt, Sarah agrees to the assignment and travels with her Gellis to small town where this haunting happens. On route she discovers that Allister Gellis usually has his regular assistant Matthew Ryder help him research his work, but he is currently away and it is Ryder who manages all the equipment during the field study, including operating the sound recorder, which the later has created. On reaching Worikshire, Sarah meets Mrs. Clare, whose barn Maddy is haunting and learns that 7 years ago, a 12 year old Maddy had showed up on Mrs. Clare’s doorstep dirty, grimy, severely injured and completely traumatized. Mrs. Clare and her house keeper had taken the girl in and nursed her. It seemed that initially the traumatized Maddy could not even speak, but would go into fits in the presence of any man. Enquiries were made to understand who was Maddy and when no one came back to claim her, the kind Mrs. Clare kept her in her home and slowly trained to be a maid. Over the years, Maddy had grown into a quiet individual, she still had her moods and fits, but mostly she was obedient and obliging girl, until two months ago when she hung herself from the rafters of the very barn that she was now haunting. Mrs. Clare was convinced that the rage which was manifested from Maddy’s departed soul could be fathomed only by a female expert and hoped that Sarah would be able to fix things for her, so that things could return to normalcy. With deep doubts, Sarah starts to reach out to Maddy, with frightening revelations of latter’s past, and devastating consequence, for Allister, Matthew and herself, unless Maddy’s soul can be avenged!

The book was gripping, almost! It began very well and the scene of first haunting with the fire in the barn was SCARY!! The thump-thump noise that Sarah hears is enough to give the reader hibby jibbies. The sleepwalking episode and the invasion of the crows was enough to make me sleep with the lights on for two days running! Unfortunately that were all the promise Ms. St. James had shown begins an ends. As a mystery narrative, the revelations falls flat; it’s clichéd and you can figure out the whats preety much my page 100 or so. More importantly, the author fails to answer the more critical questions of who is Maddy? Why did no one claim her? How did she manage to show up at the Clare’s house? You are kind of told the ending but not how the ending came about. For instance, In The Book Thief, Markus Zusak tells you up front that Rudy will die, but as a reader, it does not take anything away from the story, because the journey leading to Rudy’s death is more absorbing and complex! I could not feel any sympathy or any liking for the characters – Sarah Piper is a whinny mouse who keeps telling us that she was tall and slim with curves in her body and she is plain! Now let’s go over this – the protagonist is tall and slim with voluptuous curves and she is plain!! She keeps droning about her beauty until the male protagonist tells her she is beautiful! Wow! That’s innovative and completely non regressive! Matthew Ryder has a chip on his shoulder and one does not know why except for war trauma, and goes around scowling and being curt to one and all and that I guess is a wannabe Mr. Darcy prototype. Allister Gellis is the all-star, blonde, rich and handsome and war scarred as well, but he can be polite to even horrible strangers, but since he is not I will protect my itty bitsy assistance from being forced to drink a glass of whiskey in rude insulting manner like Mr. Ryder, he is not the hero! Point to be noted – our heroine has lived a difficult and independent life for last 5 years in London and cannot tell an over bearing stranger in the middle of the afternoon in a pub filled with people and in the presence of her employer who is a gentleman that she does not want a second glass of whiskey until the knight in shining armor shows up! Ye! Gods! The romance is flat! We had two chapters worth of “make love” scenes, and I skipped them completely. The clichés abound – if you are new rich, you are without class. You are a bully, because your wife left you!

In the end, it is an easy read, but it is not a gripping read and while the hauntings are truly and extremely scary and this where the author shows pure brilliance, it is all lost in the miasma of banality of the plot and mediocrity of the characters.

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