Book Review: The Damselfly (Banktoun Trilogy #3), by S J I Holliday

Publisher: Black & White Publishing

Publication date:  2nd February 2017

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the-damselfly-coverAfter reading all three books in the Banktoun Trilogy I am officially declaring this my favourite. The others were good, very good in fact, but a moodier vibe courses through The Damselfly, something much darker.

I was encouraged to see certain characters and their past traumas making an appearance from Black Wood (#1) and Willow Walk (#2) and how they stepped seamlessly into The Damselfly’s plot to enhance the atmosphere of its riveting storyline. It’s interesting to see the paths they have chosen and learn what motivates them in their current life and why as their quirky traits are given clarity to often show them in an entirely different light.

In particular Polly McAllister has returned to Banktoun to work at her old school as a counsellor to help students through whatever life has to throw at them. Dealing with her recent separation and recalling the incident in the ‘Black Wood’ she finds her first day at work more challenging than she’d anticipated when the news of the unexpected death of a young Katie Taylor cleaves its way through the students, her family, and the community.

Yet it’s the community’s reaction that is the most tragic of all. The story explores the powerful effect of fiery words on social media platforms and how rumours can bring people to their knees, leading to an accusation made so easily and sadly believed by many. Reason doesn’t enter in to the actions of many on these platforms, as the herd mentality doesn’t require justification only the briefest cheer from the crowd.

The sessions Polly holds with the students may be brief but are oh-so-revealing; who has something to hide, who’s fearful or is simply caught in the crossfire. How their home life borders on travesty, how broken things have become. Some are destined to repeat the same mistakes as their parents while others are trying hard to avoid them at all costs.

Adorable Sergeant Davie Gray, now even more endearing as Detective Sergeant Gray, is investigating the death of the girl who ironically had her whole life ahead of her: a keen entomologist with a boyfriend, university prospects, and recent unexpected good fortune. Banktoun is his hometown too. He knows these people but who would be capable of this? The truth is surprisingly more toxic than any theory he could entertain – it was very well played and I was impressed by the composed manner in which he exercised his enquiries with confidence and caution.

Although I was saddened to see how events conspired throughout, the bleakness made for grittily compelling reading. It’s crystal clear that even the smallest hopes can be tainted by tragedy. Damn, those final pages almost shattered my heart.

Rating:   4.5/5

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher with my thanks, and it is my pleasure to provide this unbiased review.)

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Katie Taylor is the perfect student. She’s bright and funny, she has a boyfriend who adores her and there are only a few months left of school before she can swap Banktoun for the bright lights of London. Life gets even better when she has an unexpected win on a scratch card. But then Katie’s luck runs out.

Her tragic death instead becomes the latest in a series of dark mysteries blighting the small town. The new school counsellor Polly McAllister, who has recently returned to Banktoun to make amends in her own personal life, is thrown in at the deep end as the pupils and staff come to terms with Katie’s death. And it’s not long before she uncovers a multitude of murky secrets. Did Katie have enemies? Is her boyfriend really so squeaky clean? And who is her brother’s mysterious friend?

With Banktoun’s insular community inflamed by gossip and a baying mob stirring itself into a frenzy on social media, DS Davie Gray and DC Louise Jennings must work out who really murdered Katie before someone takes matters into their own hands…

The Damselfly is the latest novel from the bestselling author of Black Wood and Willow Walk set in the small Scottish town of Banktoun. Fans of Rachel Abbott, Angela Marsons and Peter James will love this riveting psychological crime thriller as DS Davie Gray tries to hold together a community once again rocked by tragedy.

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

S.J.I. (Susi) Holliday grew up in East Lothian. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places, and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham prize. She has written three crime novels, a mix of police procedural and psychological thriller, set in the fictional Scottish town of Banktoun. They are: Black Wood, Willow Walk and The Damselfly – all featuring the much loved character, Davie Gray. Susi also works as a pharmaceutical statistician. She is married and lives in London, and you will find her at crime fiction events in the UK and abroad.

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Black Wood, by S J I Holliday

Black Wood

Crime story, filled with dark secrets and suspense…

Publisher: Black & White Publishing | Published: 24th February 2015 | Version: Kindle (own copy)

Set in the quiet Scottish town of Banktoun, it’s not difficult to know everyone’s business. But despite the gossips, it soon becomes clear that the locals don’t really know the real truth about each other and this town is a perfect breeding ground for a few secrets…

The story’s timeline flicks backwards and forwards between the past and the present. Childhood friends Jo and Claire have been through much together, although an incident in the Black Wood some twenty years earlier has affected them in different ways; Jo is not fully recovered psychologically and although Claire’s trying to get on with life, her wheelchair is a constant reminder of that day.

Soon, Jo’s already troubled life is turned upside down in more ways than one when she is convinced she has recognised someone from her past. Everyone tells her to forget it, including Claire, but Jo can’t walk away from this new arrival in town.

More tension is added to the story when ladies walking alone are being targeted by a menacing presence ski mask / balaclava. The small, local police force is struggling to track the offender down and local chief, Davie Gray, is making slow progress with his enquiries.

The story builds slowly to quite a crescendo before taking quite a sinister turn. And all the time Jo is close to snapping the fragile bonds with her closest allies. Still, she is determined to confront the past that’s returned to haunt her, in more ways than one and regardless of the consequences.

It appears the writer has endeavoured to torment Jo throughout this story and I so desperately wanted to discover what had caused this fictional character to behave like she did. It may sound harsh, but despite everything that happened to the poor girl I still had such a hard time liking her!

As I found myself striding deeper into the book it was clear more things than meet the eye have happened in the Black Wood over time. Subtle clues are littered throughout the story at intervals but I didn’t spot them all. In fact, I didn’t know who to trust right up to the end, as most of the town seemed to be hiding something!

It has atmosphere, suspense and kept me in the dark.  Good stuff.

Rating: 4/5 for atmosphere | 3/5 characters | 5/5 for the ending = overall 4/5


You can follow the author on Twitter: @SJIHolliday