Substitute by Susi Holliday

Today I’m delighted to share my thoughts on Substitute, the latest thriller from Susi Holliday. I’ve really enjoyed reading her other novels so when I was offered an early read of this latest offering I didn’t hesitate to say yes. My thanks to the author for the advance copy. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Advance Reader Copy
Release Date: 12 August 2021
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

About the Book

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 Thoughts

If there is one thing you have to do when picking up a Susi Holliday novel it is simply expect the unexpected. She is an author who is quite adept at bringing us a top notch thriller, but giving it a little slant, perhaps none more so than in Substitute which felt part thriller, part science fiction novel, remaining 100% full of thrills and tension. I tore through this book in no time at all, the story compelling me to read onward – a kind of one sitting read if you get the chance as if you are anything like me, you’ll be too intrigued to want to walk away.

This is the story of Chrissie, a woman who is approached by a stranger who offers her the perfect way to keep her family and friends safe. The stranger enters her life at seemingly the perfect time and although initially dismissive of his claims, it’s not long before Chrissie is desperate to learn more about what he has to say. What is in offer seems almost too good to be true, the small print, a touch too small to read or understand, but the premise is clear. Name three people Chrissie wants to save – and the three people she wants to nominate as their substitutes should the worst arise …

There is a real tension throughout the book, driven not only by the increasing jeopardy in Chrissie’s current life, but also by a second thread, which gives readers more background on how this … scheme, came about. This is a dual timeline story – Chrissie’s story well and truly in the present and the second part set in the past. The two stories link in unexpected ways, ones which become clear to readers very quickly, but the author still retains a good deal of the mystery, drip feeding key elements of the plot to readers at just the right time. The effect is to keep readers on the edge of the seat and completely blind to the truth of what is going on, no matter what they think they know. Prepare to be surprised, shocked even, by some of what comes to pass, but also be prepared to finish with a smile upon your face as this is a very clever book that kept me entertained right to the end.

Characters and setting are two things Susi Holliday does brilliantly and her background in the sciences certainly feeds into the more research based elements of the plot. Not in a way that slows the story, just enough to capture the mix of threat, conspiracy, cover up and plotting that feeds into the main storyline. As for the characters, there are those you can love and those you can hate. Whilst I can understand Chrissie’s determination to keep her family safe, there is more to her than initially meets the eye and her decision making may seem suspect at first, but the more we learn, the more I understood it. She’s a troubled soul, but one I still warmed to and one I wanted to see get the answers she needed, even if not all of them were the ones she really wanted.

Full of tension and with a pacing which really did propel me through the book in double quick time, I think if you like your thrillers with an original ‘what if’ kind of twist, you really do want to give this a try. It certainly is a book that will have you questioning what you would do for family and how far you would be willing to compromise your morals in order to keep them all safe. It may also have you wondering just what are all those scientists doing behind the airlocked doors of Porton Down when they aren’t testing for new strains of covid …

About the Author

Susi Holliday grew up near Edinburgh and worked in the pharmaceutical industry for many years before she started writing. 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 is the bestselling author of eight novels and a novella, several of them written as SJI Holliday. Along with three other female authors, she provides coaching for new crime writers via

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