The Broken Girls By Simone St. James
Idlewild Hall was the collector of children no one wanted back in the 1950's, even earlier in its history a boarding school that seemed to harbor a dark secret from its earliest days as the current generation of girls found warnings in the margins of their textbooks dating back to the schools opening in 1919, in Simone St. James' The Broken Girls.
In current day, the remains of Idlewild Hall are known for another reason, a murder case that had taken place in 1970's Vermont where the owner of the properties son was accused of killing his girlfriend on the grounds. The death was never explained and the young man though jailed for his crimes swears there was something with them that night.
Fiona, the sister of the murdered girl in the 70's is now a journalist in the area and when an opportunity to further explore the grounds where her sister was found dead twenty-some years before, some feel Fiona might be too close to the story- including her boyfriend, Jamie, who currently works for the police force.
Fiona never gave up hope that there is something in the mysterious death of her sister and that maybe her boyfriend was accused of a crime that he never committed.
What was it about Idlewild Hall that connected the site to strange lore and the school tale of a woman in a black dress and veil that wanders around the grounds and if she sees you she will lead you to your death?
Could that have been the something that Fiona's sister Deb, and her boyfriend had come across that night on the grounds?
Spanning two time periods, The Broken Girls ties together two deaths taking place on the same property- one of a French school girl that had been brought to America as a refugee after being liberated from a concentration camp, and the other Deb, who's body was found only yards from the well that encased Sonia for decades until she was unearthed during the reconstruction of the school.
What Fiona uncovers about the connection through interviewing former school attendees and a teacher is far darker than anything she planned to write about when she discovers the truth about the broken girls that were dumped at Idlewild.
Within the span of thirty years, two bodies are found yards and years apart on the grounds of Idlewild Hall. Fiona wants nothing more than to uncover the truth about her sister, Deb who was found dead on the grounds in the 70's, but through her investigation she finds out about a girl that perhaps the least fortunate of all.
The Legend Of Mary Hand
In the pages of textbooks, the first girls shared their knowledge of Mary Hand and her locations she haunted around the campus.
Reports that she was in the bathroom on the second floor, reports that Mary was in the garden looking for the remains of her child that was buried beneath.
Mary Hand was both a legend and that whisper in the night when the wind caught your hair and made you think something was behind you. All the girls every generation of Idlewild Hall knew her name and knew to never follow her.
Following only brought death they said.
Sonia knew of all the warnings, but still she never told anyone until it was too late.
Freed from a concentration camp where her family had been imprisoned, not for being Jewish in the time of the war, but for helping aid in the rescue of others, Sonia and her mother were sent away. Only Sonia lived to be moved to her next closest relatives in America, only to have her sent to a boarding school with little to no contact with them.
The other girls didn't know so much about Sonia's past until she began to illustrate and write about it in the notebook of one of her roommates. What the other girls learned about Sonia had shocked them.
Even more so when they learned why she had been brought to America in the first place.
The other girls of the dorm in the 1950's were mostly delinquents or illegitimate children being stashed away from polite society and after all Sonia had seen, she fit perfectly with the girls.
She knew that her time was coming when the girls were playing field hockey and a woman in a black dress and veil swished past Sonia.
Following, Sonia remembers the words that the woman had whispered.
You should never follow Mary Hand the textbooks had said.
A week later, Sonia left to spend a weekend with her relatives only to never return. The police had claimed she was a runaway and had closed the case but her friends knew that she was dead and vowed to find the truth at any cost.
When the renovation of Idelwild Hall finds Sonia's corpse after all these years, Fiona is clear that there is some connection between the events of this death and what happened on the same grounds years later to her sister.
Sonia knew that following Mary Hand would only lead to her death.
The Reopening And Its Repercussions
Getting too close to the truth was Fiona's flaw.
As she investigated the school and its new ownership, coming across the one teacher that didn't believe that Sonia would ever wander off and that the police records were wrong. This teacher had stolen all the school records as far back as its opening doors, and Fiona begins to understand the legend of Mary Hand that had scared girls from the beginning.
Before the school the land had been owned by the Hand family and they did have a daughter that had died shortly after delivering an infant girl that was still born and buried in a garden outside.
The legend of Mary Hand was based in truth but did it have anything to do with the awful things that had taken place?
Finding out that Jamie's father was one of the lead investigators of Deb's death, Fiona begins to feel differently about her relationship as witnesses lead her into the truth of false testimony in the case.
Fiona's investigation leads to the truth of another doomed girl who was struck down by the hand of the same man that had killed Deb and the cover up that had taken place. Finding yet another girl affected, perhaps Mary Hand wasn't after doomed girls after all but trying to offer them solace to get away from their misfortunes.
The Truth Of It All
Fiona finds that it is Sonia's friends that had purchased the school just for another opportunity to find more about her disappearance knowing that she would never have wandered off with nowhere to go.
In fact Sonia was a wittiness in the case against a Nazi guard from her days in the concentration camp and she was set to testify- the reason that she was brought to America and packed off to a boarding school.
What they didn't know is that the guard would never let Sonia live to testify.
Deb's own murder came with the realization that she had seen the worst side of the man she thought she had lived and his bad temper and reputation of abusing women wouldn't let her escape that night.
As Fiona runs for her life on the grounds of Idlewild the ghost of her sister warns her no matter what to never follow Mary Hand as she had seen her the night of death and nights since.
Fiona is shocked to find that not only was her sister's boyfriend guilty but someone else from her past was covering up the evidence.
I like how this book had multiple timeline and that between the ages there were multiple murders tied to the same place but I wanted to see more connection between Mary Hand and the lore and the fact that women were dying on the grounds. Where the book played up the ghost aspect so much, there wasn't really a payout except for making the connection between the school and it reopening.
Where this wasn't much of a ghost story, The Broken Girls was a beautifully woven mystery and it should have been marketed as such instead of suspenseful horror tale.
Overall, it is a worthy read that will keep you engrossed for quite sometime.