SJI Holliday – Violet
Published by Orenda Books, paperback £8.99. I received a proof copy from the publisher for review purposes.
SJI Holliday’s last book, The Lingering, has done as the title suggests – the tale of a couple who get a lot more than they bargained for on trying to start their lives afresh in a community based in a former psychiatric hospital has echoed in my brain since I closed the covers (and I’ll never look at a bath again without thinking of it). Violet is another psychological thriller, with a very different setting – you can read about Susi’s real-life trip on the Trans-Siberian Express on her blog – but which has the same skilful use of tension and assured handling of character.
Carrie’s friend couldn’t make the long, adventurous trip they’d planned, but Carrie came anyway. Violet split up from her boyfriend in Thailand and wants to follow her preferred route and get to Moscow. They meet in the bar of a swish Beijing hotel over beer and peanuts – and the lies begin almost at once.
After the stark, queasy prologue, we’re eager to pounce on any hint of what happens between China and Russia. The early chapters reminded me of my own previous travels, particularly an Inter-Rail trip in Europe in the mid-1990s which was filled with border crossings, ancient trains and unfathomable currencies – it’s obvious that Susi has done lengthy trips and has a keen eye for the people you find during them, both in tourist hotspots and off the beaten track.
There’s a strong hint of Single White Female territory, if any of you have seen that 1992 film with Bridget Fonda. We’ve become more aware, in life and in fiction, of unhealthy relationships, manipulation and stalking, but that doesn’t make this novel any less creepy and wince-inducing. Violet reveals herself as obsessive, jealous and manipulative – but Carrie is far from innocent, with hints coming particularly in her emails home.
The final chapters are thrilling and twistily shocking, with just deserts on the menu as well as a final reminder that people are not always what they appear to be. It’s an immensely satisfying read.
Find the author on Twitter at: @SJIHolliday