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Murder Road
(Review, Summary & Spoilers)

By Simone St. James



Book review and synopsis for Murder Road by Simone St. James, a supernatural thriller about a investigation into a string of deaths along a small country road.

Synopsis

April and Eddie are a newlywed couple traveling towards their honeymoon destination along Lake Michigan when a wrong turn takes them down a small country road. They see an injured hitchhiker who they attempt to help, but she dies of her wounds before they can reach the nearest hospital.

Soon, these two find themselves involved into an investigation into a string of murders that has occurred along that same road, Atticus Line, over the last two decades.

Their own investigation leads them to a tale the locals tell of a Lost Girl who was once killed and now haunts the road. As the story goes, if you see her, it means you're next...

(The Full Plot Summary is also available, below)

Full Plot Summary

Chapter-by-Chapter Summary
See the Chapter-by-Chapter Summary of Murder Road
Quick Plot Summary

The two paragraph version: April and Eddie are newlywed couple that get involved in an investigation into a series of murders when they end up lost on a small country road and pick up an injured hitchhiker. The hitchhiker dies on the way to the hospital. They learn there have been murders of hitchhikers there since the Lost Girl was murdered there in 1976, and local legends say that if you see her ghostly visage there, it means you're next.

As they investigate, they encounter the Lost Girl and realize that she is possessing people to kill the hitchhikers they pick up. They find out she is a young woman who went missing, Shannon Haller. From photos, they realize Shannon is Eddie's birth mother, which is why they were called here. Another photo from after her disappearance makes them suspect her father John was the one who killed her. John confronts them and confirms that he killed her (by accident, he claims). John is killed in the confrontation, and they believe the Lost Girl will stop appearing.


In Chapters 1 - 20, in July 1995, April and Eddie are a newly married couple who are on their way to a lake-side motel for their honeymoon. They pick up a hitchhiker, Rhonda Jean Breckwith who turns out to be injured. Rhonda dies by the time they get her to a hospital, and they're tailed by a pickup truck as they drive. The police ask them to stay in the area as they investigate, and soon April and Eddie hear about the legends of a "Lost Girl" who haunts the street they'd been driving on, Atticus Line, and who kills hitchhikers.

Eddie and April track down the pickup truck, which turns out to belong to a local man, Max Shandler. Max is arrested for the murder of Rhonda. When Eddie and April try to leave the area, they come across the ghostly visage of the Lost Girl, who is screaming for help and grabs at them. They decide to stay and investigate.

In Chapters 21 - 32, they meet two teenaged girls in town, Beatrice and Grace Snell, who have been investigating these murderers as a hobby. They learn that there has been a string of six murders over the last 19 years, beginning with the Lost Girl in 1976. The Lost Girl is the only victim who was not identified, though she was found with a high school letterman jacket from a nearby town, Midland. The murders all happen in different ways, but they all take place along that road.

They look into missing persons notices from around 1976 in Midland and come across the name Shannon Haller, and start to suspect that Shannon is the Lost Girl. They learn that Shannon had a child that was put into the foster system because she was an addict. She had finally been sober for three months and wanted to take a trip before coming back to get her child back, but she disappeared during that trip. Meanwhile, we learn more about April and Eddie's backstories. April's mother killed her abusive father when she was 12 and they went on the run for many years until her mother went to prison for it when April was 18. Eddie was put up for adoption when he was 6, but he was adopted by a kind and caring couple.

One night, April decides to go down the road alone as a hitchhiker. A woman, Trish, picks her up, but becomes possessed by the Lost Girl and then tries to murder April, but April manages to get away. April realizes that the killers have all been different people but they've all been possessed by the Lost Girl.

In Chapters 33 - 40, the Snell girls manage to get the address of Shannon's father John in Midland. Eddie and April break into his home and take a roll of film. When they get it developed, they see a picture of Shannon and her child, and they realize that Eddie is her son. There's also a photo of Shannon from after she left home for her trip. Knowing that John had that photo, they think it means that John was the one who killed Shannon since he must've seen her at least on more time after she left home.

In Chapters 41 - 45, John goes to where April and Eddie are staying and tries to shoot them. John shoots Eddie, and an officer shoots and kills John. Three months later, the police confirm via dental records that the Lost Girl is Shannon Haller. They realize there is a strange phenomenon where the people she possessed seem to all have brain cancer and no recollection of their crime. After John's death, it seems that the Lost Girl is not haunting the street anymore. The book ends with April and Eddie seeing that a mall is being built along the street. It means that more bodies will likely be discovered so more of Shannon's victims can be identified and put to rest.

For more detail, see the full Chapter-by-Chapter Summary.

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Book Review

I’m not sure how I’ve managed to go this long without reading anything by Simone St. James, but it’s something I’ve been wanting to rectify for a while. I’ve always heard good things about her mysteries, and Murder Road was released earlier this month, so this seemed like a good time to finally dive in.

Set in the summer of 1995, Murder Road is a investigative mystery novel, with ghostly, supernatural undertones. It opens with a young newly-married couple picking up an injured hitchhiker to drive her to the hospital, but she dies of her wounds. The couple then learns that this road, Atticus Line, is known for being haunted by a “Lost Girl”, who was once a hitchhiker who was killed. If you see her ghostly visage walking down the side of the road, then you’re next.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a proper ghost story, but Simone St. James has offered up a engrossing premise and an unabashedly supernatural murder mystery.

I really liked the investigative and ghostly aspects of the book. The investigation gives the story a compelling forward progression, and the supernatural aspects of the story are provocative and suspenseful. I also appreciated how overtly supernatural this story is. I think a lot of books like to dance around something being maybe a ghost or maybe just nothing, but Murder Road decides it wants to be ghost story and runs with it.

When they depart from an area that the ghost doesn’t want them to leave, the main character shouts out a reassurance to the ghostly presence that they’re just going elsewhere to investigate and they’ll be back, and I loved it. I think if you’re going to write a ghostly mystery, sometimes it’s better to just own it.

murder road promo

Some Criticisms

Unfortunately, I did have trouble getting to the backstories of the characters. I’ve noticed lately that I’ve gotten increasingly impatient with stories where the characters spend a lot of time mulling over their tragic joyless backstories and repeating the same thoughts about it. I think mystery-thrillers can be especially bad about this, and I find that it detracts from the excitement in the story.

It’s not that it’s pointless or anything; the backstories here serve a purpose, and we’re supposed to be questioning how well these two even know each other — our two main characters got married after a quick six-month courtship — but I can’t help feeling like there was a way achieve the same thing with it being less of a drag. To be fair, I think the audiobook made it a lot worse. So much of the book is narrated in this woebegone, hopeless voice that made all those parts grate at me a little. When I gave up on the audiobook, it made me like the book itself more.

The end of the book fizzles out a bit, but overall there is still a thought-out and coherent mystery in there.

Read it or Skip it?

Murder Road is unapologetically a supernatural thriller, and I imagine a lot of people will be wanting to read it come October for precisely that reason. The parts about the actual mystery are compelling and well-paced. The book delivers on creating a ghostly investigation into a string of unsolved crimes, dropping tantalizing clues and gripping developments along the way.

Sadly, the characters morosely bemoaning their sad backstories and obsessing over revealing them to one another dampened my enthusiasm for the story somewhat. I found learning more about the characters to be more irritating than intriguing.

So, I ended up with some mixed feelings about this book, but still enjoyed it enough that I might still read St. James’s most well-known mystery, The Sun Down Motel at some point. My reading list is a bit long right now, so I’m not sure when I’ll get to it, but I think there’s a decent chance I’ll revisit Simone St. James’s work eventually.

See Murder Road on Amazon.

P.S. For a recent murder mystery that I really enjoyed specifically because it doesn’t spend a lot of time wallowing in sadness, check out Listen for the Lie by Amy Tintera.

Murder Road Audiobook Review

Narrator: Brittany Pressley
Length: 9 hours 10 minutes

The audiobook was not bad necessarily, but the whole hopeless, desolate, woe-is-me tone that she uses for to voice April just really irritated me after a while. It made the whole book kind of dreary, and I eventually had to give up on listening to this via audiobook.

I think if it doesn’t bother you, it could be a good story to listen to just because it’s relatively straightforward and easy to follow, but the narration personally didn’t work for me.

Hear a sample of the Murder Road audiobook on Libro.fm.

Book Excerpt

Read the first pages of Murder Road



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