Silence for the Dead

Silence for the Dead

by Simone St. James


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Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James

“Portis House emerged from the fog as we approached, showing itself slowly as a long, low shadow....”

In 1919, Kitty Weekes, pretty, resourceful, and on the run, falsifies her background to obtain a nursing position at Portis House, a remote hospital for soldiers left shell-shocked by the horrors of the Great War. Hiding the shame of their mental instability in what was once a magnificent private estate, the patients suffer from nervous attacks and tormenting dreams. But something more is going on at Portis House—its plaster is crumbling, its plumbing makes eerie noises, and strange breaths of cold waft through the empty rooms. It’s known that the former occupants left abruptly, but where did they go? And why do the patients all seem to share the same nightmare, one so horrific that they dare not speak of it?

Kitty finds a dangerous ally in Jack Yates, an inmate who may be a war hero, a madman… or maybe both. But even as Kitty and Jack create a secret, intimate alliance to uncover the truth, disturbing revelations suggest the presence of powerful spectral forces. And when a medical catastrophe leaves them even more isolated, they must battle the menace on their own, caught in the heart of a mystery that could destroy them both.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451419484
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/01/2014
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 227,161
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Simone St. James is the award-winning author of  An Inquiry into Love and Death and The Haunting of Maddy Clare, which won two RITA awards from Romance Writers of America and an Arthur Ellis Award from Crime Writers of Canada.  She wrote her first ghost story, about a haunted library, when she was in high school, and spent twenty years behind the scenes in the television business before leaving to write full-time. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and a spoiled cat.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

England, 1919

Portis House emerged from the fog as we approached, showing itself slowly as a long, low shadow. I leaned my temple against the window of the motorcar and tried to make it out in the fading light.

The driver watched me crane my neck. “That’s it, for certain,” he said. “No chance of confusion. There’s nothing else around here.”

I continued to stare. I could barely see cornices now, the slender flutes of Grecian columns just visible in the gloom. A wide, cool portico, and behind it ivy climbing walls of pale Georgian stone. The edges faded in the mist, as if an artist’s thumb had blurred them.

“A good spot, it is,” the driver went on. My silence seemed to make him uncomfortable, had done so for miles. “That is, for what they use it for. I wouldn’t live here myself.” He adjusted the cap on his salt-and-pepper head, then stroked a thorny finger through his beard. “Table’s low here, so it gets wet. These fogs come off the water. It all ices over terrible in winter.”

I pulled away from the window and tilted my head back against the seat, watching through the front windscreen as the house came closer. We jolted over the long, muddy drive. “Then why,” I asked, “is it a good spot?”

He paused in surprise. I tried to remember when I’d spoken last since I’d hired him at the train station, and couldn’t. “Well, for those fellows, of course,” he said after a moment. “The mad ones. Keeps ’em away from everyone, doesn’t it? And the bridge from the mainland means they’ve nowhere to go.”

It was true. The bridge was long and narrow, exposed to the wind that had buffeted us mercilessly as we navigated its length. Any man who attempted to reach the mainland on foot would be risking his neck. I wondered whether anyone had tried and fallen to his death in the churning ocean below. I opened my mouth to ask, then shut it again.

The driver seemed not to notice. “It wasn’t built as a hospital, you see. That’s what I mean. It was built as a home, and not too long ago, either. Twenty years, give or take. Family named Gersbach, with children, too. God knows how they did it out here. Four hours on the train from Newcastle on Tyne to town, and then over that bridge. No place for a child, I say. No one saw them much, and no wonder—it was all they could do to get supplies from the mainland, and they never could keep servants for long. I guess there’s no explaining the rich. They left during the war. I hear they were standoffish folk. Typical for Germans.”

We were drawing up to the house now, and he steered the motorcar around the drive, headed for the front portico. We circled a stone fountain in the center of the lawn, unused, sitting dry and stained in an empty garden bed. Patches of mist moved across it, sliding soundlessly over the sad-eyed carved Mary as she opened her blessing arms over the empty basin, blank-faced cherubs flanking her on either side.

“You mustn’t worry.” The driver stopped the motor before the front steps. “It’s remote—that’s certain—but I’ve never heard of anyone being mistreated at the hospital. Your fellow is probably just fine. It’ll be too late for me to come back tonight, but they’ve nice guest rooms here, for family. I’ll just come by tomorrow morning, then, shall I?”

I looked at him for a moment before I realized he thought I was a visitor. “I’m staying,” I said.

For a second his eyebrows flew upward, as if I’d said I was checking myself in. Then they lowered in consternation. “A nurse? I thought—” His gaze flicked to the rear compartment, where my valise lay. It was small enough to be an overnight bag. When he looked back at me, I met his eyes and watched him understand that the valise contained everything I owned.

“Well,” he said. The silence sat between us for a moment. “I’ll just get your bag for you, then.”

He got out of the car, and I opened my door before he could come round, pulling myself from the painfully hard seat. He flapped his hands in frustration and retrieved my small bag. “Be careful,” he said as he handed it to me, his friendly tone gone. “These are madmen, you know. Brutes, some of them. You’re just a tiny thing. Young, too. I had no idea you were coming to nurse, or I would have said. Most of them don’t last. It’s too lonely.”

I handed him payment, the last money I owned. “Lonely is what I want.”

“I get called out here to pick the girls up sometimes when they leave. They’re quiet as ghosts, and we never see the nurses in town. Maybe they’re not allowed. I’m not even certain they get leave.”

“I don’t need leave.”

“What kind of nurse doesn’t need leave?”

Now he sounded almost annoyed. I turned away and started up the steps.

“It’s just you don’t seem the type,” he called after me.

I turned back. “You needn’t worry about me.” I thought for a moment. “It isn’t a German name, Gersbach,” I said to his upturned face. “It’s Swiss.” I glanced past his shoulder to the fountain again, at Mary’s slender, draped shoulders, her elegant arms. Then I climbed the steps toward the front doors of Portis House.

“Katharine Weekes.” The woman glanced through the papers in her hand, shuffling them deftly through her long fingers, the corners of her mouth turned down in concentration.

“Kitty,” I said.

She glanced sharply up at me. We were in a makeshift office where perhaps the butler or the housekeeper had once sat, tucked in the back of the building, the room furnished with only a scabbed old desk and a mismatched wooden filing cabinet. Out the window, the fog drifted by.

She was a tall woman, with square shoulders, her hair cut in a blunt fringe that was almost mannish. She wore a thick cardigan over her uniform and a pair of half-glasses that she didn’t bother to use dangled on a chain around her neck. The white cap she wore seemed out of place and almost ridiculous on her head. Her eyes narrowed as she looked at me. “You will not be called Kitty,” she said. “You will be Nurse Weekes. I am the Matron here, Mrs. Hilder. You will call me Matron.”

I filed this piece of information away. It was stupid, but I would need it. “Yes, Matron.”

Her eyes narrowed again. Even when I tried, I had never had an easy time sounding obedient, and something must have slipped through my tone. Matron would be one of those women who never missed a hint of insolence. “It says here,” she continued a moment later, “that you come from Belling Wood Hospital in London, where you worked for a year.”

“Yes, Matron.”

“It’s a difficult hospital, Belling Wood. A lot of casualties came through there. A great many challenging cases.”

I nodded mutely. How did she know? How could she know?

“We usually prefer more experienced nurses, but as you were at Belling Wood, it’s to be assumed your skills are higher than would strictly be required here at Portis.”

“I’m sure it will be fine,” I murmured. I had carefully placed my hands on the lap of my thick skirt, and I kept my eyes trained on them. I wore my only pair of gloves. I hated gloves, but I hated the sight of my hands even more. At least the gloves hid the scar that traveled from the soft web between my thumb and fingers down to the base of my wrist.

“Are you?” Mrs. Hilder—Matron—asked. Something about the careful neutrality of her tone set a pulse of panic pumping in the back of my throat.

I risked a glimpse up at her. She was regarding me steadily from behind a gaze that gave nothing away. I would have to say something. I quickly searched my memory.

“Belling Wood was exhausting,” I said. “I was hardly ever home. I began to think I couldn’t really make a difference.” Yes, this I remembered hearing. “I was tired of casualty cases, and I had heard of Portis House by reputation.”

A bit thick, perhaps, but I felt it had been called for. Matron’s expression didn’t change. “Portis has no reputation,” she said without inflection. “We opened only last year.”

“I hear that the patients are very well treated,” I said. Also true, even if I had heard it only from the taxi driver twenty minutes earlier.

“They’re treated as well as they can be,” she replied. “You also have a letter of reference here from Gertrude Morris, Belling Wood’s head nurse.”

I watched her extract the page and read it carefully. Her eyes traveled down the handwritten paper, then up again. Sweat beaded on my forehead.

It was a lie, all of it. I’d never set foot in Belling Wood. My London flatmate, Alison, had worked there, and in her few hours home between shifts, she’d told exhausted stories of what it was like. It sounded like hard work, but hard work didn’t bother me, and I wanted a job. Washing bandages and emptying a few bedpans didn’t seem like much compared to the factory work I’d been doing, and when I was let go, I found myself with no way to pay my half of the rent.

Ally’d had two nursing friends over one night, and as I sat in my tiny bedroom, I listened through the thin walls to their talk. One had a pamphlet from Portis House advertising for nurses and was thinking of applying. She was sick of London and the work sounded easy—just a few shell-shocked men, if you please, far from the blood and the vomit and the influenza in the city. But the others said the place was so far away she’d likely go mad. Besides, rumor had it Portis House couldn’t keep staff past a few weeks, though no one could say why, and it was desperate for girls. Who wanted to give up a good London job and go all that way to a place that couldn’t keep nurses? Best, all the girls agreed, to stay in London and hope for a promotion—or, even better, a husband.

I’d sat on my thin bed listening, hugging my knees, my heart pounding in excitement as they’d tossed the idea away, and after they left I’d fished the pamphlet from the trash bin. It was the perfect solution. A far-distant place, desperate for girls, and all I’d have to do was wait on a handful of soldiers. I’d sent off an application claiming Ally’s experience as mine, complete with a letter of reference from the head nurse. Ally had talked about her often enough; it was simple to change my handwriting and use the woman’s name. Who would check too closely in these days of chaos, with the war just over?

I’d received a reply within a few days—an acceptance sight unseen, accompanied by travel instructions. I’d told Ally a made-up story about getting another factory job and packed my bag, leaving her none the wiser. If it doesn’t harm anyone, I’d always thought, it’s fair game.

Matron folded the paper again and put it on the desk. The pulse of fear in my throat slowed.

“This all seems in order,” she said.

I swallowed and nodded.

“Conditions here can be challenging,” she went on, “and our location is isolated. It isn’t easy work. We have a hard time getting girls to stay.”

“I’ll stay.”

“Yes,” she said. “You likely will.” She tilted her head and regarded me. “Because Gertrude Morris happens to be my second cousin, and that isn’t her handwriting at all.”

My heart dropped to my stomach. No. No. “I—”

“Be quiet.” Her voice was kept even, and her eyelids drooped over her eyes for a brief moment in what almost seemed an expression of triumph. “I should not only turn you away, I should report you to Mr. Deighton, the owner. A word from him to your next employer and you’d be out on the streets.”

“But you brought me all the way here.” I tried to speak calmly, not to sound shrill, but it came out a croak. “You can’t just turn me away. Why did you bring me here?”

“I didn’t. Mr. Deighton did. I was away for several days, and your application fell to him. Believe me, if he’d waited to seek my counsel, none of this would be happening.” She sounded a little disgusted, as if the slight was a frequent one. “But now it’s done.”

What did that mean? I waited.

Matron leaned back in her chair and examined me. “How old are you?” she asked.


“Have you had measles?”


“Chicken pox?”


“Do you have varicose veins?”


“Susceptible to infection?”

“I’ve never been sick a day in my life.”

“Are you capable of holding down a man who is thrashing and calling you names?”

Steady. She was trying to throw me, but I wouldn’t let her. “I don’t know about the thrashing, but I’ve been called every name in the book and then some.”

She sighed. “You seem awfully confident. You shouldn’t be. You’re a pert one, too, and don’t think I can’t tell. I don’t care for your attitude.” She glanced down at the papers before her again, then back at me, and now her jaw was set. “I don’t know what you’re up to, Miss Weekes, and I don’t care to know. As it happens, I’m in dire need of a nurse. I haven’t been able to keep a girl past three weeks, and it’s put the work far behind. Frankly, I’m about to lose my position over it.”

I blinked. I hadn’t expected candor. “I’ll stay,” I said again.

“I’ll thank you to remember that, and not come crying to me.”

“I don’t come crying to anyone.”

“You say that now. Another thing—I keep rules here at Portis House. Show respect to myself, to the doctors, and to Mr. Deighton when he comes for inspection. Cleanliness and neatness at all times. Always wear your uniform. Shifts are of sixteen hours’ duration, with two hours of leisure time in the early afternoon, and one week’s night shift per month. You get a half day off every four weeks only, and no other leave will be given. Curfew is strictly enforced, and no fraternizing with the men. Breaking the rules is grounds for immediate dismissal. Do I make myself clear? And for the last time, you’re to call me Matron.”

I couldn’t believe that this was happening, that I would be staying. That my wild plan had worked. This place is perfect—so perfect. I’ll never be found. “Yes, Matron.”

“I will not discuss your background, or lack of it, with anyone for now. But you are expected to perform all the duties of a nurse, to the level of your fellow nurses. How you do that is your problem. Is this fully understood?”

“Yes, Matron.”

“Fine, then. I’ll have Nurse Fellows show you around the place.” She stood.

I stood as well, but I didn’t follow her to the door.

“Well?” she said irritably when she opened the door and turned back to see me standing there. “What is it?”

“Why?” I said. “Why did you accept me, really? You don’t like me at all. Why didn’t you turn me away?”

I could see her deciding whether to answer, but her distaste for me won out and she went ahead. “Very well. Because I think the only girls who will stay here will be the ones who have nowhere else to go,” she said bluntly. “Normal girls haven’t worked, but someone desperate might do.” She shrugged. “And now I’ve found you.” She turned to the open doorway. “Nurse Fellows, please show Nurse Weekes to her quarters.”

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for Silence for the Dead

“Vivid, eerie and atmospheric. St James’ latest will simultaneously tug at your heart strings and send chills down your spine. Absolutely riveting.”—Anna Lee Huber, award-winning author of the Lady Darby Historical Mystery series

“Kudos for Simone St. James. I was swept away by this atmospheric and truly spine-chilling page turner, a riveting tale of dark suspense set in 1919 within a crumbling mansion turned mental hospital. If you love a good ghost story, you will be entranced.”—Mary Sharratt, author of Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen and Daughters of the Witching Hill

Praise for the novels of Simone St. James

“Downright scary and atmospheric. I flew through the pages of this romantic and suspenseful period piece…”—New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner

“Anyone who loves Daphne du Maurier and Victoria Holt will enjoy this book… highly recommended.”—Historical Novels Society

“The perfect book to curl up with by the fire on a stormy night...although perhaps not by yourself in an empty house!”—Katherine Webb, author of The Unseen

“Another chilling story.…St. James delivers a quickly paced read that will satisfy both new and old fans.”—Publishers Weekly

“A perfectly balanced combination of mystery, romance, ghost story and history.”—Romantic Booklovers, Top Pick

“An inventively dark gothic ghost story. Read it with the lights on. Simply spellbinding.”—Susanna Kearsley, New York Times bestselling author of The Winter Sea

Customer Reviews

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Silence for the Dead 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Mirella More than 1 year ago
Silence for the Dead is a gothic style ghost story set in the early 1900’s right after World War I. The setting is an old family manor that has been turned into a recovery home for shell-shocked soldiers. The residence is isolated and difficult to get to. In addition, it was the sight of family murders years before. Kitty Weekes is a young woman eager to leave her life behind, so she applies for a position as nurse in the home, even though she is untrained and unqualified for the job. The recovering soldiers of the nursing home are all colorful characters, plagued by dastardly dreams and unique in their needs. There is an overly strict matron and her assistance that create problems for Kitty as she struggles to feign her nursing knowledge and abilities. One particular resident, Jack Yates, a national hero, not only comes to her rescue, but they soon become friends who work together to solve the mystery of the ghosts and unravel the truth about the past murders that took place there. There is plenty to keep a reader entertained in this gothic style romantic paranormal story with numerous plot twists. Well written, I could easily picture the house, the scenery, and the characters as I read along. From start to finish, the book held my interest right up until the gripping climax. If you want to cozy up to a nice haunted house tale, then this is the book for you. It definitely gets my approval!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like you were back in time, at the house with all the characters. The authors style of writing is so fluid you never want the story to end. Do not pass this one up. A must, must read.
faeriemoon More than 1 year ago
I LOVE Simone St. James style of writing and this one did not disappoint. Simone has the ability to pull the reader into a place and time, in this case, 1919 post-war Britain, and write characters that you care about. I like that she threads a bit of romance into her story without destroying it and veering off into "just" romance. This is a ghost story that will keep you turning pages until the wee hours of the morning. I was sad to finish it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The first half of the book was interesting and engaging, the second half... not so much. Also, the ending was a bit too abrupt for my taste. Still, it was a pretty enjoyable read.
arbjamesAJ More than 1 year ago
Kitty Weekes arrived at Portis House, an isolated asylum for trouble WWI officers, she came seeking asylum of her own from her painful past. Hired to work as a nurse, and with no nursing experience, Kitty struggles to come to terms with all that her job entails. When strange things begin happening, she begins to question her own sanity. Soon she discovers that she is the only one that deliver the patients and staff from an evil force that inhabits the house. That is, if they don't die from influenza first. This was in interesting, quick read. The mystery of the evil force was simple enough to solve. What really interested me the most was the depiction of how the war impacted these soldiers, and even how their families reacted to what today we would classify as PTSD.
anovelreview_blogspot_com More than 1 year ago
This is the first novel by Simone St. James I've read and I can tell you I will definitely read more! The novel is historical, supernatural and a mystery all in one. Kitty Weekes is running from her past and finds a hiding place at Portis House. Portis house is home of a number of men who are mentally weak after the war. While there, she finds there is something sinister happening and a mystery to what happened to the family who once owned Portis House. Silence for the Dead is one of those novels where you are swept away into the story. I was fully engaged with every written word. A number of times my heart was racing, as I read. I had no idea how this was going to play out. As the novel drew to a close, I thought I had put some of the pieces together...I was wrong. I loved Kitty and Jack! I was very suspicious of where their story line would go--I think you will too, so I won't share! Actually, I enjoyed all the characters! I almost felt like I was right there during the story and I don't always get that feeling from a novel. I'm going to have to say one of my favorite books this year!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The plot has so many layers that a less talented writer could not have pulled off Her last book was so good I was afraid that this would change my opinon of her talent, instead it has ensured her to be one author that I always buy without even reading the dust jacket
Sensitivemuse More than 1 year ago
Anything to do with a horror ghost theme and an asylum has to be good right? Well, yes and no. The book was somewhat enjoyable to read but it had its’ moments. The plot itself was good. It had the elements of a good gothic theme - not scary enough to make people read it in daytime (seriously?) but it had some good decent creep factor in it. It’s enough to set the mood and theme of the book but nothing to make the skin crawl. The element of mystery was also there and the ghost story aspect was good - nothing to blind side you - except perhaps for a little twist in the end (with where the ghost was and who was it manipulating etc etc). It’s pretty much a stable plot with all the main points closed (or is it? *queue creepy organ music*) so I’d have to say the gothic ghost story was what was in it for me. Character wise. Kitty is likable. She’s resourceful, and a survivor from horrible abuse. Big applause for her for being strong and able to stand up and survive through various ordeals. Captain Mabry stood out for me because I enjoyed reading about his character. He seemed to be the strong stable silent type in the asylum where you have various patients with various issues (most were casualties of World War One) and there was a certain calmness about him that made him likable. It’s pretty much obvious Kitty and Jack were to be together. The romance aspect in the book was all right. Necessary? I’m not sure perhaps. It’s not really for me. When their romance was more cemented was where the book was starting to take a slight turn downhill. So near the ending when everything was revealed, all plot holes start to close. Sometimes, depending on the writing, you can stretch it out and make it interesting. Or you can make it drag. This one, unfortunately drags. We’re done with the ghosts, everything was answered, and the last 30 pages or so I just wanted the book to end. The romance of Kitty and Jack intensify and this is where intense eye rolling is also induced. Dear Lord, am I reading this just to see if there’s a scary twist at the end? Or am I wasting my time? Well sadly, I wasted my time. It was good to see what happened to characters like Mabry, and even Matron, but it just dragged way too much. Yeah okay we get it Kitty and Jack forever. Why do we need so many pages of this, am I suddenly reading a romance now? Other than the ghost story in this book, the romance nearly killed it for me and a dragged out ending. Perhaps a nice twist in the ending would be nice. Or maybe skim the 30 pages and be done. I would say take it or leave it with this book. It was moderately enjoyable for me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cindyvon73 More than 1 year ago
There were times while reading this book I had to put it down, close my eyes, and tell myself "No one is watching you" That's the feeling you get while reading this. Chills, suspense, intrigue! Awesome! 1919, England. When Kitty Weekes runs from her abusive life at home with her dad, working in factories, making up aliases and barely getting by, she runs into an all together different kind of trouble. She fakes being a nurse to get hired at Portis House, a mental hospital for men who had shell shock from the war. Amongst the madness of the patients and the meanness of the staff, Kitty starts to go a little mad herself until she recruits the help of "England's Hero" Jack Yates, a patient at Portis House. What they find, and when ensues is pure terror, for everyone involved. A mystery must be solved as to the previous family who owned Portis House, they've up and disappeared. There are moans, voices, screams in the night, and a chilling terrifying apparition. You'll thoroughly enjoy this book, as well as the rest of Simone St James stories. I highly recommend it!
Kate2666 More than 1 year ago
First half of the book was very interesting, I couldn't put the book down you wanted to know more, second half of the book became somewhat predictable, but it was still a good read and easy to read.
Gertt More than 1 year ago
Disappointing. Did not finish. Simply could not connect with the characters. Although, I did love The Haunting of Maddy Clare and Inquiry Into Love and Death.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book is well written, but I could not enjoy it because of the utter loathesomeness of the "heroine.". I couldn't get past her low-class, lying, cheating, arrogance. She is the worst kind of Cockney trash, and we're supposed to like her? I can only be greatful this is set in the 20s and the author couldn't endow her with multiple tats and piercings.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A daisy dobbs series ? everyone on the ww1 shell shocked vet plot please let us have shell shocked vets with a master crime org. funds keeping them in high class retirement home with beautif nurses and quite mad freudian fuedibg with jungiers of course the dates little off but who cares
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Historical fiction with ghosts, crazy PTSD soldiers and all in a home that is completely isolated from the world.  Kitty is a woman who has been running from a past for a very long time and she ends up in this historical home that has been converted into a mental hospital working as a nurse without the proper qualifications.  She learns that the past doesn't always stay in the past both the past of the occupants of the home and those in her personal past. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago