"The DamselFly" by SJI Holliday
The tragic murder of bright school girl Katie Taylor sets the small town of Banktoun alight. Polly McAllister has returned to Banktoun to make amends. She is thrown in at the deep end with her job as school counsellor and it's not long before she uncovers a multitude of murky secrets. Katie had enemies. Katie's boyfriend is not so squeaky clean.
DC Louise Jennings and DS Davie Gray must work together to unravel the latest dark mystery in a town blighted by tragedy. They must find out who murdered Katie before someone takes matters into their own hands.
Trial by social media. A baying mob. But they've got the wrong man...... Because the killer is closer than you think.
Can I just say, wow -cover crush!! Isn't it gorgeous!
And, a quote from Elizabeth Haynes on the front, Amanda Jennings on the back and book blogger extraordinaire Anne Cater (randomthingsthroughmyletterbox @annecater) on the inside page, I mean, what fantastic endorsements! There is no way you can leave this sitting on the shelf in the bookshop!
This is SJI Holliday's third novel set in Banktoun, although it can be read as a stand alone. There are some overriding story arcs that carry across the trilogy but there is enough catch up provided to keep you up to speed. I would recommend that you give "Black Wood" and "Willow Walk" a read though as they are great thrillers.
For those of you who have read the other titles in this series, rest assured, "The Damselfly" does not disappoint.
SJI Holliday welcomes us back to Banktoun and provides us with yet another story of murder, mystery and suspense.
Welcome to Banktoun. Twinned with Le Harve, France. Le Happiest Town in the County.
The story kicks off straight away with several lines of intrigue. First we meet Katie and the book opens with a killer line:
"Sometimes, Katie wished that she was dead."
Well, before her wish comes true, she wins five thousand pounds on a scratch card while bunking off school with her boyfriend Neil. She swears him to secrecy. Katie has big plans - university, a future, a move away from her sister and mother.
Then we meet Polly who is a school counsellor, retuning to Banktoun to make amends and resolve some issues but finding herself thrown headlong into dealing with the aftermath of Katie's supposed suicide. Polly's complex back story and conflicting emotions about returning are well captured as she sees "memories at every turn, not all of them good" while out on her lunch break on her first day.
Then returning to school, this sense of trepidation and unease becomes even greater.
"A prickle of fear down her back, like ice sliding down a car windscreen. Something has happened. Something has definitely happened. Something bad."
And when she finds out that the girl who has died is Katie Taylor, daughter of Mandy Taylor, the case becomes even more emotionally complicated for her.
We also meet Louise, a detective investigating Katie's death. As she is despatched to take a look at the crime scene, Louise wonders why she was so keen to join the Serious Investigation Unit - but then she remembers "life would be so boring otherwise." Although, I think she might actually prefer a boring day in the office to the one she will actually end up having! Louise also has a crush on her colleague Davie Gray with whom she must now work. Through Louise, Holliday delivers some very effective description of what is happening around her. I admired Holliday's imagery in "Willow Walk" a lot so I did enjoy being able to read more passages where she conveys a scene through a few words. Her ability to capture atmosphere is impressive.
And then there is Neil, Katie's boyfriend. Is he all he seems? Has he been as faithful and as truthful as he led Katie to believe?
So, the scene is set. The character's introduced and plenty of intriguing details about each of them have been hinted at as we set off to investigate Katie's death. A perfect premise and set up. A perfect number of characters to engage us, develop plenty of sub plots and complex threads without overwhelming or confusing us. The chapters alternate between the different characters which ensures the plot is driven forward with great pace and it is hard to stop yourself from reading 'just one more chapter' as you are keen to see who has to say what next. The chapters are organised into bigger sections headed with Monday, Tuesday and so on as the investigation continues which also creates a sense of pace, desperation and anticipation.
As well as this, the chapters are also broken up with draft emails and conversations taking place on social media. The ThreeWiseMonkeysBlog is posted but only in draft form. It is anonymous and the reader devours the clues, hints and tone of voice within these draft posts trying to work out who they are written by. This adds yet another layer of mystery and threat. The subtitle of the posts are "Telling It Like It Is" and that is exactly what the they do. The voice is unpleasant, bitter, cruel, blunt and vindictive. It's confrontational and it's easy to guess what kind of chaos it would cause if it were ever published.
"What's that saying - you can choose your friends, you can't choose your family? I wouldn't choose my family. Not if I had a choice. A proper choice. Families are science. You come from the same seed, spread down over the years like pollen. Friends are psychology. Chosen or thrown together? Why do you choose your friends? Why do they choose you? And ....what if they unchoose you?"
There's also a 'secret' group set up on Facebook which grows with frightening popularity. Its messages become threatening, violent, out of hand and Holliday shows how quickly a rumour, an allegation, one misjudged sentence can stir up a frenzy of hatred and aggression.
There are a lot of different voices and different types of writing in this book which makes it a really engaging and page turning read. Holliday creates believable characters with authentic voices. Her use of dialect and colloquialism also gives the book vitality and energy - it makes it real.
There are so many different threads to consider, be wary of, be intrigued and frightened by that it is a compelling crime thriller. There is plenty of action, excitement, and drama; there are well developed characters who you invest in and feel yourself becoming involved with. There are lots of great details, hints and clues which show what an accomplished storyteller Holliday is.
This is a powerful read. Holliday explores the effect of social media on police investigations, friendships, communities and individuals extremely well. Social media is so much part of our everyday existence that it is fascinating to read about it's more deadly side.
There are also many other themes in this book that are universal like relationships - appropriate / inappropriate / equal / unequal and what happens when lines are crossed, judgements made, assumptions spread. It is also a book about families, friendships, secrets, resentment and jealousy.
I highly recommend this book and think it will appeal to a huge range of readers. If you like detective novels, books set in Scotland, books set in small communities that are affected by tragedy or books about social media crime, siblings, families and friendship then this is the book for you.
You may also want to read Angela Clarke's Social Media Murder series ("Follow Me" & "Watch Me") as well as Alex Caan's "Cut to the Bone" and TM Logan's "Lies" for other novels that use social media to generate mystery, murder and threat.
"The Damselfly" is out on 2nd February and published by Black and White Publishing. But if you can't wait that long, don't forget to look up "Black Wood" and "Willow Walk"which are available on Amazon and in bookshops.
Here's my review of "Willow Walk" if you fancy taking a look!
Bibliomaniac's Review of "Willow Walk" SJI Holliday
For more recommendations and reviews from me you can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)