Published by Orenda Books,
14 November 2019.
Lone backpackers would do well to find room for this cautionary tale in their kit. Violet and Carrie, two solo travellers, are randomly thrown together when they first rub shoulders in a frustrating Beijing ticket office and then find themselves drinking in the same Beijing hotel. Desperate to ride the Trans Siberian express through Mongolia to Russia, Violet, dumped by her boyfriend, eagerly grabs the opportunity to tag along with Carrie as Carrie’s spare ticket becomes unexpectedly available since the latter’s erstwhile travelling companion can’t join her having sustained an accident.
And thereby hangs a tense, psychological drama told in the first person by Violet interspersed with Carrie’s point of view in emails exchanged with her absent friend. The two start to forge a bond fuelled by the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol and confidences about failed relationships.
They head off together sharing a cramped cabin on the long journey and it’s when they spend time in hedonistic partying/drinks and drugs stupor in Ulaanbaatar and Irkutsk that the author digs deep into the characters enabling the reader to get to know them better. Carrie is carefree, manipulative and engaging, drawing strangers to her like a moth to a light, while Violet is edgy, ridden with jealousy and with a short fuse. Both have more than a screw loose.
Which of the two unhinged psychopaths does the reader side with? The author slowly ratchets up the tension and menace, the plot twists and turns and the reader, even when expecting the unexpected, is totally blindsided by the sequence of the many truly dark and disturbing episodes.
This is a cleverly constructed, atmospheric and punchy thriller with vivid descriptive material and natural dialogue although some readers might find the endless partying a little repetitive. That aside, it’s a compelling, toxic read that will linger hauntingly in the memory, and make for a riveting TV film. And the book cover is very creative and shouts ‘buy me.’
Reviewer: Serena Fairfax
SJI Holliday grew up in East Lothian. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham competition. She has written three crime novels set in the fictional Scottish town of Banktoun, which are a mix of police procedural and psychological thriller. Susi also works as a pharmaceutical statistician. She is married and lives in London, and you will find her at crime fiction events in the UK and abroad.
Serena Fairfax spent her childhood in India, qualified as a lawyer in England and practiced in London for many years. She began writing by contributing feature articles to legal periodicals then turned her hand to fiction. Having published nine novels all, bar one, hardwired with a romantic theme, she has also written short stories and accounts of her explorations off the beaten track that feature on her blog. A tenth, distinctly unromantic, novel is a work in progress. Thrillers, crime and mystery narratives, collecting old masks and singing are a few of her favourite things.