Book Review: The Damselfly by SJI Holliday

An unsolved murder. A community turned against each other. A killer close to home...
Katie Taylor is the perfect student. She's bright and funny, 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 Louise Jennings must work out who really murdered Katie before someone takes matters into their own hands...

I'd been seeing talk of SJI Holliday's The Damselfly long before I was finally able to begin reading my own copy. My TBR pile is huge and out-of-control (still is and probably will remain that way for another 53957 years), and so I usually have to work my way towards a book. Thankfully, there weren't too many ahead of me before I could dive into The Damselfly which is GREAT because once I started this I could NOT put it down.

The Damselfly is based in the small town of Banktoun (found out today that this is pronounced as Bank-TIN rather than my presumption of Bank-TOON with a Scottish twang, so there you go. You really do learn something new everyday, and I like to try and get pronunciation of place names right when reading). I love anything that's set in a tight-knit community like Banktoun. It's a place where everybody knows everybody, including everybody's business, and it just feels easier to capture the characters that the author provides you with in such a tight setting like this one. I think it helps to bring it more to life also. Rather than taking the reader here, there and everywhere, you're able to build up the place in your mind as the author peppers the book with small descriptions throughout, adding to the overall image that you hold in your head which is exactly what Holliday did. Banktoun is also the setting of the previous books in SJI Holliday's Banktoun series, which includes 'Black Wood' and 'Willow Walk', both of which are already nestled nicely on my Kindle waiting for me to indulge in their stories too. I have to say, after enjoying 'The Damselfly' as much as I did, I really can't wait to see what's in store for me with the author's previous books. Anyway, onto the book itself...

In 'The Damselfly' by SJI Holliday, readers are introduced first to Katie Taylor, and her boyfriend Neil. It's clear pretty much right away that Katie doesn't have the best life at home, but all that changes when Katie realises that she's won five thousand pounds on a scratch-card. Immediately, her and Neil's plans of escaping the clutches of life in Banktoun become real rather than just a fantasy. It's a moment of shock and excitement, and of realisation that perhaps she can make a proper life for herself after all. That she, unlike some of the other Banktoun residents, will actually get away and make something of herself. That is until she's found dead and the threads of a darker, more dangerous story begin unravel.

What I really loved about 'The Damselfly' was the switching of narratives. Not only does the author focus on the victim and her life, but we're placed with Polly who has just returned to the town with a secret she's keeping to herself and who is also the new school counsellor. We also meet Louise and Davie, two sharp and snappy detectives who are trying to solve the mystery behind Katie's death. We also get to see things from Katie's boyfriend Neil's point of view, too. Now for me normally, I don't do well with more than a couple of characters to focus on within a story but it just worked so well in 'The Damselfly', and thinking about it now, it just made the telling of it brilliant. It opened up the case of Katie's death in the most intense and intriguing of ways. I was able to see things from so many different perspectives, kept hanging on as each chapter reached its end, and it was, quite simply, exciting.

Holliday knows just how to ramp up the tension. I suspected many different people throughout my reading of this book, wondering if they were perhaps holding a secret to themselves that would leave a crack in the surface of their character. Holliday also presents perfectly how social media can be used in these situations and how quickly things can escalate due to the digital efficiency that people now have access to.

'The Damselfly' was a pacey, punchy and entirely riveting novel about small-town life, what happens when the unthinkable takes place, and how quick people are willing to place the blame at someone's feet. I grew attached to these characters quickly, and cannot wait for the next novel based in Banktoun. Until that day arrives, I'm delighted that I have Holliday's previous books to tuck into once the chance arises. A brilliantly gripping novel, set in a brilliantly created small-town community.

Hummingbird Reviews is awarding 'The Damselfly' by SJI Holliday with four of five stars.
You can purchase your copy here.