SJI Holliday has been reading crime fiction since she was able to hold a book. She writes short stories and her debut novel, Black Wood was published in spring 2015. You can find out more at www.sjiholliday.com.
Best know for the DI Tom Thorne series; this is the second standalone crime thriller from best-selling author, Mark Billingham.
A quick glance at the cover makes it look like the perfect summer beach read; if you ignore the blood spatter and the creepy looking dummy floating in the pool. I personally didn’t read it by the beach, but I did fly through all 400 pages of it on two balmy nights during the current miniature heat wave.
The premise of the book is simple: three very different couples meet on holiday in Florida, and while they are there a young girl goes missing - her bloated body later found floating in the mangroves. When they come home, they decide to meet up for dinner at each other’s houses, soon realising that their friendship was merely sticky taped together during the days and nights of sunbathing, crab cakes and cocktails; it quickly becomes clear, as I’m sure that anyone who has met people on holiday can relate to, that in ‘real life’ they don’t have much in common – as they get to know each other properly, the quirks in each of their personalities are slowly and carefully revealed… and when another girl goes missing, it appears that someone might know more than they are telling.
The structure of the novel is intricate, and initially slightly confusing; but as the characters start to take shape, the whole thing starts to flow more easily. There are six main viewpoint characters, and their stories are interwoven throughout as we are flashed forwards and backwards from Florida to London and to each of the three dinner parties. There are also brief monologues written through the eyes of the killer, and these are ambiguous enough to keep us guessing as to their identity.
To add to the list of heads we need to climb into, we also have two detectives on the case – Jeff Gardner in Florida and Trainee DC Jenny Quinlan at the Met. Initially, Gardner asks Quinlan just to follow up on a few outstanding questions, so he can ‘put all his ducks in a row,’ but for the over-zealous Quinlan, this leads to full scale interviews and eventually, some strong evidence that points the finger strongly towards one of the six friends.
For such a huge cast of characters, you might expect something to fall apart somewhere, but each one has a strong unique voice and the dialogue in particular is extremely well written, in places laugh-out-loud funny, which is no less than we’ve come to expect from the former comedian. The plotlines are tightly knitted together and the story is perfectly paced – right up to the final, monstrous dénouement.
A great summer read – with a dark heart.