By S.J.I. Holliday
Today I am pleased and excited to present an enticing extract that sets the scene of the thriller/train noir book Violet by S.J.I. Holliday. There is enough to give a bit of a taster to know that you are going to join in on a train journey, not just any train journey, an international adventure where you just know something isn’t going to be right and all will not be as it seems. Thanks to Orenda Books and blog tour organiser Anne Cater for organising this.
About the Author
S.J.I. (Susi) Holliday is a scientist, writing coach and the bestselling author of five crime novels, including the Banktoun Trilogy (Black Wood, Willow Walk and The Damselfly), the festive chiller The Deaths of December and her creepy Gothic psychological thriller The Lingering. Her short story ‘Home From Home’ was published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and shortlisted for the CWA Margery Allingham Prize. Encapsulating her love of travel and claustrophobic settings, her latest novel, Violet, explores toxic friendships and the perils of talking to strangers, as well as drawing on her own journey on the Trans-Siberian Express over 10 years ago. All of her novels have been UK ebook number-one bestsellers. Susi was born and raised in Scotland and now divides her time between Edinburgh, London and as many other exciting places that she can fit in.
Carrie’s best friend has an accident and can no longer make the round-the-world trip they’d planned together, so Carrie decides to go it alone. Violet is also travelling alone, after splitting up with her boyfriend in Thailand. She is desperate for a ticketon the Trans-Siberian Express, but there is nothing available.
When the two women meet in a Beijing Hotel, Carrie makes the impulsive decision to invite Violet to take her best friend’s place. Thrown together in a strange country, and the cramped cabin of the train, the women soon form a bond. But as the journey continues, through Mongolia and into Russia, things start to unravel – because one of these women is not who she claims to be…
I’m sitting alone on a concrete bench. Around me, people are swarming, shouting quickly in a language that I can’t understand. Above me, the sky is a thick powder blue, like dirty paintbrushes swirled in water. The smog is so dense I can taste it. Waves of panic wash over me as I try to inhale some fresh air, and I wonder how anyone can breathe in this city. What started out as an exciting, fun morning has rapidly declined into panic and frustration; and not for the first time, I regret leaving Sam behind in Bangkok.
There is something easy about that place, with the swarms of British backpackers and grinning Aussies, men on stag parties, cold beers and menus written in English. Even though Thailand is as far away from the English countryside as can be, there is a certain warmth. Familiarity. Despite all the stories you hear, I felt completely safe there. But then me and Sam had that stupid falling-out in the hotel lobby. I can’t even remember how it started.
And so here I am, sitting outside the Beijing international train station, no boyfriend, only half my luggage – since my rucksack went AWOL somewhere on the way to China – and still no ticket for the train I want, which leaves tomorrow morning. I could call Sam, beg for his forgiveness, ask him to follow me out here. But firstly, I know he doesn’t want to, and secondly, I’d only be doing it out of desperation. He got sucked in, in Thailand, didn’t want to follow the plan – my plan – loop back via China and the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow, before flying home from there. He’d gone into an Internet café and resigned from his job; he was getting more excited than I liked by the cheap beer and the hordes of stunning young women that seemed to flock to him on a daily basis. ‘I’d just like to hang about here a bit longer,’ he’d said. ‘Lighten up, sweetheart. You need to smoke some more weed.’
He’d changed since the group of German students arrived. There’d been a wild night. I’d felt uneasy, but he’d felt the opposite. ‘This is the kind of fun I came for,’ he said. To them, not me. I knew then that my Sam was gone. Was I angry? Not really. I just hope he stayed sober enough to do the appropriate checks on some of those beautiful ‘women’ that he and the German lads were spending so much time with.
Now I’m alone, in Beijing, a bustling metropolis of nearly twentytwo million people, feeling properly homesick for the first time in months. I did have fun yesterday, going for a proper Chinese tea ceremony with a young couple I’d met in the gardens near the Forbidden City. The tea had been ridiculously expensive, and I’d realised early on that it was a scam of some sort, but as scams go, it was pretty friendly. And I know more now than I ever thought I needed to about the many different kinds of Chinese tea.
This morning I was buzzing, ready for another full-on day, making sure I could fit in as many crispy duck pancakes as I could manage. All I had to do was pop down to the train station and buy my ticket. The station is huge, the guidebook said, but buying a ticket should be simple. Just make sure you go to the international section. When they said huge, I hadn’t quite realised what that meant. But while I sat outside, waiting for the sun to push its way through the everpresent smog – it didn’t, by the way – it dawned on me that small towns in China have five million inhabitants, and that huge really means the station is the size of Manchester, and after walking around the whole place for two hours, being jostled and stared at, pointed at, pointed out and misdirected for hours on end, what I realised was that foreigners can’t buy international tickets in the station after all; they have to go to a travel centre in some business hotel, streets away … and that I am so over this now. This so-called ‘adventure’.
And so I sat myself down on this concrete bench, and all I want to do now is cry. But that’s not going to get me anywhere. Certainly not to Moscow, which is where I really want to be. I need to move on. Find another companion for my trip. So I take a swig of water, then I pick up my backpack and head back into the throng.