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.
Following the death of her husband and unborn child, Charley Belington sells the family home and bravely starts life over again. On moving into a new flat, she is befriended by her landlady, Ella, who seems like the perfect friend and confidante.
But, unbeknown to Charley, Ella is fighting her own dark and dirty demons as the fallout from a horrific childhood sends her spiralling down into madness—and unspeakable obsessions.
As Ella’s mind splinters, her increasingly bizarre attentions make Charley uneasy. But with every step Charley tries to take to distance herself, Ella moves in a tightening lockstep with her, closer and closer and closer…
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Watching Over You tells the story of Charley, who is devastated after the death of her husband and unborn child. Moving to a new part of town, she hopes for a fresh start - and at first, her landlady Ella appears to be a breath of fresh air - offering support and friendship, soon leading to Charley moving on and getting involved with a new man. But that wasn't Ella's plan, and she's not at all happy when Charley seemingly doesn't 'need' her any more. And just to add in another dimension, Ella and Charley are being watched...
The novel opens with disturbing scenes of Ella's life in both the past and the present. She is clearly unhinged, with an obsessive nature and a sex addiction to boot. But despite her erratic behaviour, there is something vulnerable about her that makes the reader root for her from the beginning - hoping that somehow Charley (a support worker who has knowledge of trouble individuals) will get through to Ella before she spirals out of control.
The character of Ella is brilliantly conceived - weaving her current behaviour with excerpts from her diary that give hints to the terrible things she has suffered in the past. She is a sad and lonely woman who just wants to be loved, but unfortunately, she doesn't make it easy for anyone to help her, thus she comes across as quite evil and frightening to those who cross her path.
This is the author's first standalone psychological thriller (having previously published the police procedural Taunting The Dead and 'The Estate' series of gritty women's crime fiction) and I think it's a natural fit for the well-plotted, character-led writing style that is clearly her strength. The sense of place is also expertly woven into the story, placing Stoke firmly on the map.
Fans of Single White Female will love this book.