My enormous thanks to Susi Holliday for sending me a copy of her latest novel Substitute in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.
Susi’s writing makes regular appearances here on Linda’s Book Bag – most recently with my review of The Last Resort that you’ll find here.
Published by Thomas and Mercer today, 12th August 2021, Substitute is available for purchase here.
Three people live. Three people die. You make the choice.
Like any mother, Chrissie wants to protect her family. She would do anything to keep them safe. So when a mysterious stranger turns up at her door, offering to prevent the deaths of the people she loves, it sounds too good to be true. The only problem: she must choose someone to die in their place. A substitute.
When her daughter Holly has a terrible accident, Chrissie has no option but to enter the programme. In that horrifying moment, she would do anything to save her. But even after Holly makes a miraculous recovery, Chrissie is convinced it’s just a coincidence. After all, who can really control the laws of life and death?
But as the dangers to her family escalate and her chosen substitutes begin to disappear, Chrissie finds herself in an underworld of hidden laboratories and secretive doctors. And the consequences of playing by their rules are far deadlier than she ever imagined…
My Review of Substitute
Chrissie has a few choices to make!
What I so enjoy about Susi Holliday’s writing is that the reader never quite knows what they will be getting because each book is so different. Substitute is an excellent example because it’s part crime thriller, part sci-fi, part dystopian potential, part exploration of family relationships, and always crafted through a compelling plot that hooked me in and spat me out the other side feeling that I had been manipulated and entertained in equal measure. Initially I wasn’t sure where Substitute would take me, but read with a constant feeling of dread that lurked even in the most innocuous of events. Susi Holliday has that uncanny ability to unsettle, to shock and to wrong-foot her readers and I found Substitute did that brilliantly.
It’s not going to be possible to say too much about the plot, but I found it terrifyingly plausible – especially those events that are controlled by those in power. I don’t want to spoil the story for others but I found myself wondering just what I might have done in Chrissie’s position and who might have made my substitute list. Reading Substitute had the effect of making me consider my own ethics and that’s not always an easy thing to do. I think the impact of Substitute lingers long after the reader has finished it. It seems to inveigle its way into the subconscious so that I keep thinking about it.
However, exciting and disturbing plot aside, it is the flawed, believable Chrissie who makes Substitute so compelling. Family relationships, friendships and neighbours are presented in a kaleidoscope of patterns with Chrissie at the heart so that I felt I had a brilliant insight into her thinking and behaviour. Substitute made me wonder how well I really know those around me in a manner I found quite worrying. Similarly, the personalities of Michael and Edward illustrate the possibilities we have with the same choices in front of us. There’s very much a feeling that one wrong choice, one substitution at any level and life can spin off its axis.
As well as personal choices and behaviour, the other themes of Substitute are scarily astute. In recent times, we’ve probably learnt more than we care to know about corruption at high levels, decisions that lead to life and death, and control over news and information, so that as a result Substitute feels authentic, plausible and unnerving.
Substitute is not only an interesting and entertaining read, but it is a book that will leave the reader wondering ‘what if?’. Susi Holliday has that knack of making her readers contemplate their own dark souls and here she does so brilliantly. I wonder how reading Substitute might make you feel!
About Susi Holliday
Susi (S.J.I.) Holliday grew up in East Lothian, Scotland. 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 prize. She lives in London (except when she’s in Edinburgh) and she loves to travel the world.
Her serial killer thriller The Deaths of December, featuring Detective Sergeant Eddie Carmine and Detective Constable Becky Greene was a festive hit in 2017.
Writing as SJI Holliday, she also has three crime novels set in the fictional Scottish town of Banktoun, which are a mix of police procedural and psychological thriller. They are: Black Wood, Willow Walk and The Damselfly – all featuring the much loved character, Sergeant Davie Gray.
Also as SJI Holliday, her spooky mystery The Lingering was released in September 2018, followed by Violet – a psychological thriller set on the Trans-Siberian Express – in September 2019. Violet has been optioned for film.