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…
Having previously reviewed and enjoyed the first two books of this series- Black Wood and Willow Walk – it’s time to return to the dark and murderous world of the residents of SJI Holliday’s small Scottish community of Banktoun in The Damselfly. Be prepared for some unsavoury goings on…
Once again there is a seamless interweaving of the characters and events from the previous two books, but for those who have not discovered this series yet, fret not if you join in the deliciously dark fun at this later point. Holliday has a great way of placing her characters in differing scenarios of importance, but by the same token moving them forward through changes in their lives, or returning them to their roots after time spent away. In this way, there is an incredibly real fluidity to the lives of her characters, reflecting the natural changes that people undergo in terms of their jobs and relationships, but the lure of one’s roots plays a major part. Generally speaking, I think the central enjoyment of these books for me is the strong sense that you are reading about real people, not those mind-numbingly witless and largely unbelievable middle class creations, that are currently infesting the world of psychological crime fiction. Holliday’s people are a sublime mix of the well-adjusted, and the emotionally damaged, and the observational style of her books as she puts them through various forms of self doubt, or emotional trauma, is done extremely well, undercut by Holliday’s now trademark dark humour.
Likewise, with the story focussing on a broken family and the difficulties of adolescence, Holliday draws on the world of social media- warts and all- to explore the communicative habits of her younger protagonists, and how they use it as a conduit for their problems and insecurities. I must confess that I usually get very frustrated reading books that put teenagers front and centre, but Holliday manages to avoid well-worn stereotypes, and balanced out the mix of the good, the bad and the ugly adolescents very well, and neatly exposes the twisted loyalties, immaturity or plain fear that hampers the police investigation into a young girl’s death. Throughout the book, Holliday neatly uses her younger protagonists to toy with our empathy, drawing on the differences of their backgrounds, although interestingly a more privileged upbringing is certainly no guarantee of a better moral compass, and the theme of family loyalties and jealousy plays a major part throughout.
Throughout this tricky investigation the steadfast figure of recently promoted DS Davie Gray stands tall, where his innate knowledge of the town’s residents proves both useful or difficult in equal measure. He is an open-minded and fair copper, but underscored by a steely determination to catch Katie’s killer, even if it sets him at odds with the community. I enjoyed his partnership with DC Louise Jennings, and the slight air of tension that exists between them, for reasons that you will discover for yourselves. Also big kudos for Holliday, for further exploring one of the more minor characters from the previous books, in the shape of ex-addict Quinn, and I enjoyed the way he was realistically interweaved into the turbulent history of Katie’s family.
I will confess to being a little disappointed in the expose of the killer’s identity, in terms of the intriguing red herrings that Holliday puts in our path, but nonetheless a few hours spent in the community of Banktoun, with its dark deeds and disparate residents is never wasted. Whether this is your first visit, or you’re up to speed with the series to date, it’s a recommended read from the Raven.
(With thanks to Black and White Publishing for the ARC)
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