Review: SJI Holliday – Black Wood

3853Childhood trauma is powerful theme in crime novels. Children are, of course, the victims of violence and the impact of crimes committed against them can last well into adulthood. It’s a theme explored in my own novel In Bitter Chill and I was interested to see how Black Wood by Susi Holliday would approach what looked like a similar premise. However, what writers put down on paper is influenced by their upbringing and own experiences. Holliday has produced a book set in a small Scottish town that is uniquely hers.

Claire and Jo were involved in an act of violence in Black Wood that left Claire paralysed and Jo with a ambivalent attitude towards the world. When a man walks into a bookshop where Jo works she recognises him as one of the people involved in the childhood event. People are reluctant to believe her memories and even Claire urges her to move on. But a balaclava-clad man is attacking women on a nearby railway track which Jo is convinced is connected to the man’s reappearance.

Holliday is excellent at characterisation. Jo’s personality extends beyond the cliché ‘feisty’. She’s obnoxious in parts and hangs on to friendships with a dismaying neediness. But friends are also attracted to her energy and remain loyal to a certain extent. There are multiple points of view but these are well demarked and the narrative easy to follow.

I grew up in a small town and can always identify with the claustrophobia of relationships in a closed circle of friends. Holliday is a very good writer and I particularly enjoyed the long descriptive passages. Not all debut writers have the courage to write these and books can be dialogue heavy. Not so here.

SJI Holliday is a writer to look out for. Black Wood is a standalone so it will be interesting what direction her writing takes her. Thanks to Black and White publishing for my review copy.

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15 thoughts on “Review: SJI Holliday – Black Wood

  1. It does sound like an interesting premise for a story, Sarah. And it’s good to know that Holliday creates balanced characters. I like those very human characters who have believable flaws, but where you can also see why people would be drawn to them.

  2. Sarah, I’m with Sergio when it comes to children and violence. While I have read a few, I don’t seek them out. Sometimes good characterisation and writing, as in this case, makes it worth reading such books. Thank you for the review.

  3. This sounds like my kind of novel. I will add it to my “search” list as books published in the UK take quite a bit longer to be released in Canada (unless they’re by authors who are already famous).
    Many thanks Sarah, read on!

  4. Pingback: Crime fiction news: Two Deals and book covers | crimepieces

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