I’m thrilled to be on the blog tour for The Lingering by SJI Holliday today. Thank you to Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater for asking me to take part. My blog buddy today is Nicola over at shortbookandscribe.uk
Married couple Jack and Ali Gardiner move to a self-sufficient commune in the English Fens, desperate for a fresh start. The local village is known for the witches who once resided there and Rosalind House, where the commune has been established, is a former psychiatric home,with a disturbing history.
When Jack and Ali arrive, a chain of unexpected and unexplained events is set off, and it becomes clear that they are not all that they seem. As the residents become twitchy, and the villagers suspicious, events from the past come back to haunt them, and someone is seeking retribution…
I had the great privilege of interviewing Susi at my local library recently, along with William Ryan. It was great to hear about some of the influences behind The Lingering, particularly Susi’s own experience of staying on a commune. I’m sure she’ll be saying more about that in some of the guest posts on the tour. But what about the book?
Well, I loved the opening with that incredible sense of smell – ‘There’s an unfamiliar smell in the air today. Something like wet pine cones and mulched earth. A hint of old sweat, something sweet, like a lily, and the sticky ripeness that comes from unwashed bodies.’ From those first three sentences, I knew I was in for a treat.
We know from the outset that something is a bit off with Jack and Ali but of course, our natural inclination is to think that there’s something wrong with the community. Especially with all the list of rules – no internet, no contact with the local village, no regular contact with family and friends on the outside – all advised rather than completely forbidden, giving the idea that you still have control. And how many times can you eat mouli?!
The setting – Rosalind House – exudes creepiness from the beginning – ‘we don’t go into the North Wing’. It has a long history of wrongdoings from persecuting women as witches to sadistic treatments for patients with mental health issues. There’s the idea of once you go into Rosalind House, you’re there for life. Only a few leave.
There are some fantastic characters as well. To begin with I wondered why Angela was written in the first person but that becomes clear later in the book. I definitely preferred being in her head than anyone else’s! The people in the community appear to be lost and looking for meaning in their lives. Jack and Ali want a fresh start but they seem to be escaping rather than searching for meaning. In the first part of the book, Smeaton Dunsmore is the archetypal commune leader – softly spoken, very controlled (and controlling), and the font of all wisdom and knowledge. All with subtle sinister undertones. In the second part though when Smeaton becomes one of the narrators, we see him more as an ordinary man – insecure and his ideal of always trying to see the good in people blinds him to evil. His lack of discernment has catastrophic consequences.
I also liked the diary entries from the 1950s which slowly reveal the true nature of what happened in Rosalind House at that time.
But the real stars of the show are the ghosts – just the right balance of creepiness! From the obvious things of lights flickering or a coldness coming over you, to the wet footprints or being held down in the bath. Nothing was over the top and the feeling of discomfort is there from the very beginning.
This is a standalone but, although things are tied together at the end, there are still questions that need answering. This is a perfect read for autumn/winter. Just as the trees are stripped of their leaves, The Lingering lays bare the secrets and lies of Rosalind House and its inhabitants, both past and present. A deliciously chilling and creepy read.
The Lingering is available as an e-book now and the paperback is published on 15th November. To buy/pre order, click here.
S.J.I. (Susi) Holliday is a pharmaceutical statistician by day and a crime and horror fan by night. Her short stories have been published in many places and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham prize with her story ‘Home from Home’, which was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in spring 2017. She is the bestselling author of the creepy and claustrophobic Banktoun trilogy (Black Wood, Willow Walk and The Damselfly) featuring the much-loved Sergeant Davie Gray, and has dabbled in festive crime with the critically acclaimed The Deaths of December. Her latest psychological thriller is modern gothic with more than a hint of the supernatural, which she loved writing due to her fascination and fear of ghosts. She is proud to be one of The Slice Girls has been described by David Mark as ‘Dark as a smoker’s lung.’ She divides her time between Edinburgh and London and you will find her at crime-fiction events in the UK and abroad.