"The Damselfly" by SJI Holliday is an exceptionally good whodunit set in the small fictitious town of Banktoun, found not far to the south-east of Edinburgh. As we see it, it's the job of the book reviewer not only to say whether or not they like a book, but also to say why they like it, or don't. That's actually a little harder than normal with "The Damselfly". What makes it stand out as special in a marketplace that is busy with highly readable and enjoyable whodunits? That's something we return to below.
Seventeen-year-old Katie Taylor is an exceptional student. She's doing well at school, and in a few months will swap small town Scotland for university life in London. She also has a boyfriend who loves her, and things get even better when they have a win on a scratch card that means they have enough money to ease their move down south. Yes, Katie may come from what many would call a problem home, and her mother may never have revealed who Katie's father is, and Katie and her younger sister may spend most of their time fighting, but her future is looking very bright indeed. Only suddenly it isn't, and Katie is found dead in her room at home.
The story of the investigation that follows is told from the viewpoints of three central characters. On the day that Katie is killed, Polly McAllister is starting work as the newly-appointed school counsellor at the secondary school in Banktoun that Katie attends, or attended. Polly has returned to Banktoun, where she grew up, to lay ghosts of her own and try to build a new life for herself. The last thing she expects is to be plunged into the centre of a murder investigation on her first day. Detective Constable Louise Jennings is part of the team investigating the murder, and finds that Bantoun is a town in which everyone seems to have something to hide. The police need to find the killer before local feelings run out of control and mob rule takes over. And Neil Price is - was - Katie's boyfriend, struggling to come to terms with Katie's death and his own feelings of guilt arising from events the day before.
So what makes "The Damselfly" such a good book? The characters are nicely drawn and very believable, and the plot develops at a pace perfectly calculated to pull you in and keeps you turning the page, while never rushing you past some important development in the investigation. Perhaps what really sets this book apart is the artful way the storytelling passes around the circle formed by Polly, Louise and Neil. All this would of course count for nothing if the mystery at the heart of the book wasn't genuinely intriguing, and if its resolution wasn't unveiled to the reader in a way that keeps you engaged right to the end. They are, and this is a book we'd strongly recommend to all lovers of Tartan Noir.