LONGLISTED for the Guardian's Not the Booker Prize
Number One Bestseller in Ebook
'Cements Holliday's position as one of the most gifted and entertaining psychological thriller writers in the business' Steve Cavanagh
‘Saunters from creepy to genuinely terrifying … I was completely unable to put it down' Elizabeth Haynes
‘In the new wave of gothic novels, The Lingering is a stand-out triumph' Eva Dolan
‘An atmospheric chiller of a book … reminiscent of early James Herbert' Fiona Cummins
Married couple Jack and Ali Gardiner move to a self-sufficient commune in the English Fens, desperate for fresh start. The local village is known for the witches who once resided there and Rosalind House, where the commune has been established, is a former psychiatric home, with a disturbing history.
When Jack and Ali arrive, a chain of unexpected and unexplained events is set off, and it becomes clear that they are not all that they seem. As the residents become twitchy, and the villagers suspicious, events from the past come back to haunt them, and someone is seeking retribution…
At once an unnerving mystery, a chilling thriller and a dark and superbly wrought ghost story, The Lingering is an exceptionally plotted, terrifying and tantalisingly twisted novel by one of the most exciting authors in the genre.
'Utterly beguiling and darkly sinister, this superb Gothic ghost tale is a brilliantly crafted rug puller' Lisa Howells, Heat Magazine
‘A wonderful cross-over novel that ranges from taut psychological chiller to supernatural suspense … Nail-biting stuff, superbly executed' Sunday Times
‘Readers will find this contemporary gothic tale hard to put down' Publishers Weekly
‘A thrilling, chilling, shocking tale, perfect if you take delight in an icy shiver scuttling down your spine' LoveReading
‘Brilliantly chilling and perfectly paced' Anna Mazzola
‘One of the most original ghost stories I have ever read' Cass Green
‘Like Stephen King meets Thomas Harris' Derek Farrell
‘A serious spine-chiller from an exceptional talent' Chris Whitaker
‘Tense and chilling, with a creeping sense of unease' Neil Broadfoot
‘Perfectly paced and guaranteed to cause you sleepless nights for all the right reasons. Fans of Susan Hill and Andrew Taylor, take note' David Mark
‘Creepy, unsettling and all-consuming' Jenny Blackhurst
‘Spooky, compelling and chilling' Jane Isaac
‘Eerie and unsettling, with a bittersweet beauty' Fergus McNeill
‘Unnerved me right from the start' June Taylor
'A perfect winter read' Lisa Gray
‘An unsettling tale of haunting … that lingers in the mind' Mason Cross
‘A relentlessly unnerving mystery – like shuffling footsteps from a long-locked attic' Matt Wesolowski
‘Gets under your skin and stays there' Quentin Bates
‘The story is at the same time a locked roo
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As the road dips into the flat, bleak fenland, a burning ball of sunlight drops down in front of them and they both raise a hand to shield their eyes. Jack swerves to the left, almost ending up in the drainage channel that runs along the length of the field.
'Jesus,' Ali mutters from the passenger seat. She flips the sun visor down in front of her. 'Pretty spectacular. Can we stop for a minute? I just want to snap a pic on my phone.' Jack slows, turns to look at her. His look says the same thing that's just slid into her own head. 'Yeah, you're right,' she says. 'What's the point of taking a photograph now? It's not like I can send it to anyone.'
Jack adjusts his own visor and speeds up again. 'Well you could ... but it's not advised.'
Ali sighs. 'Do we have to go through all this again? It really will be easier if you embrace it with an open mind. You might even enjoy it.'
'I doubt that,' he mutters.
She wants to carry on. Pick a fight for no real reason. But she stops herself. That's what the old Ali would do. With the old Jack. Despite everything, she does still love him and she wants this to work. She glances around at the back seat of the car, jammed with what remains of their worldly possessions.
They've sold the rest. They don't need much where they're going. Not much of the stuff they used to need anyway. Technology. Gadgets. Fancy gold satin pumps and a Chanel clutch bag in the same shade, both far more expensive than her salary allowed. The girl who bought them looked like she'd won the lottery when Ali sold them at the car boot sale for a tenth of the price. She knows they could've made more money if she'd sold things on specialist websites, maybe even got a company to come round and do a valuation. But what was the point? They had their savings, and that was enough to secure their place. What would they do with more money? Would they be persuaded to give that away too?
Practically nothing from their old life is required anymore.
She feels liberated and petrified in equal measure.
Jack leans over and flips open the glove box. Ali swivels back around and bats his hand away. 'Keep your eyes on the road. What do you want? I'll get it.'
'I think there's a map in there. Can you check? I thought I'd memorised the route but I'm starting to think that we're going in circles. All these roads look the same. I'm sure we've passed that house three times.' He slows down.
Ali looks out at the small cottage on their right. It's crooked, as if it is slowly sinking into the marshes beneath it.
'That's definitely not the same cottage as the last one. The last one had a blue gate, and there were other cottages further along the road. This one's on its own, and the gate's not even painted.'
'I'm glad you're keeping an eye out.'
She rummages in the glove box and finds a crumpled Ordnance Survey map. She straightens it out on her lap. A faded coffee ring obscures part of the image on the front – a cathedral. Ely, maybe?
'The Cambridgeshire Fens, 1998. Wow. Was this the last time you used a map?' She unfolds it and a musty scent fills the air in front of her face. 'Shame we had to get rid of the sat nav.'
'I suppose we didn't need to do that, did we? It wouldn't do any harm left in the car. Are we even going to need the car after this? I'm still not totally clear about what we can and can't do in this place.'
'Me neither, but we'll find out soon enough. From what it said in the letter, I don't think we're actually banned from doing things or going anywhere, it's —' 'It's just not advised,' Jack cuts in. He has the hint of a smirk on his face.
Ali ignores it and runs her finger down the map. 'Got it. We're still on track. In fact, we're nearly there.'
He mutters something that she can't hear.
She stares at him now. Looks at the paleness of his skin, the dark circles beneath his eyes. He looks like he's barely slept. He's too thin, and a faint sheen of sweat sparkles on his brow. She lays a hand on his knee, fighting the urge to pull it sharply away again.
'It's going to be OK, Jack. I promise you.'
Jack doesn't reply.
He doesn't believe her. He's made that crystal clear over the last few weeks, since she set the plan into action. She's tried her best to reassure him, explaining in the best way that she can that there is no other choice. It's this, or ... she doesn't even want to contemplate the alternatives.
'Everything is going to be OK,' she says once again, just as the copse of high trees comes into sight – the first of the landmarks for them to follow to reach their destination.
She wonders who she is trying to convince.
She stares out at the bleak but beautiful landscape. She's read about this area of reclaimed land, where dead plants never decay and strange grasses sprout from the permanently saturated peat.
Ali takes the sheet of folded paper out of the bag in the footwell. 'Nearly there,' she says. 'After the trees it's only another mile, then we'll see the entrance to the driveway.'
Jack sniffs. 'I think I see it.'
The driveway is long and straight, the land on either side flat and scorched by the sun. The building grows in front of them, as Jack drives too fast over the potholes until, at last, they are there. He stops the car.
The main building is exactly as she has imagined it: an oversized front door with a stone archway, flanked by long narrow windows. She can make out some of the smaller buildings at either side. They are less impressive, and obviously built later, as the hospital expanded.
That's what Rosalind House had once been. Built in 1845 on land that had lain barren since a grand family home burned to the ground in the seventeenth century, it was once the largest asylum in the county. Residents were sent here for all manner of medical conditions, many of which weren't medical at all; such patients were mostly women, who were often sent away by men who wanted to silence them for having opinions of their own. The place had been self-sufficient back then, according to what she'd dug up during her research. The Victorian doctors had believed that activities such as tending to vegetable patches and churning their own butter would help soothe troubled minds. In the years that followed, though, the focus had changed, and in the 1940s it had become the local state psychiatric hospital, housing victims of wartime trauma as well as other members of society who had somehow lost their way.
It isn't a hospital now ... but Ali hopes that living a self-sufficient life of simple meals and soothing, repetitive manual activities will soon become as commonplace to them as ordering pizzas online at eleven p.m. and having non-stop movies on demand. It might even be enough to mend what has broken between them. She glances at Jack. He is staring at the building. His knuckles glow white from where he is gripping the steering wheel so tightly, as if he is holding on for dear life, hoping that someone will save him from falling off a cliff. She lays a hand on his knee and feels his leg relax. He sighs. His grip on the steering wheel loosens.
'We'll give this place a month, OK? That's what you said, isn't it? And if it doesn't suit us, we move on again, right?'
Ali nods. 'Yes. That's what I said. Only ...' He turns to face her. Lifts her hand off his knee and squeezes it. 'Only what?' She squeezes back. 'I'm just not really sure what we're going to do if this doesn't work.'
He drops her hand and restarts the ignition. 'Let's think about that later,' he says. 'If we have to think about it at all.'
A scowl is etched onto his face, his brows are knitted. She hovers a hand back towards his knee, but changes her mind and folds it into her lap. On her left, outside, she sees the arched canes of a kitchen garden. Beyond that, a wheelbarrow parked next to a pile of dark soil. She glances at the clock on the radio console: 10:30. There's no one around. Tea break? She'd loved tea breaks in her old job. Taking time off the wards, putting her feet up. She'd enjoyed being a psychiatric nurse but it was tough and it was draining. She relished those breaks simply because they gave her the chance to talk to people whose problems weren't pathological. She would miss her colleagues and their mundane little gripes about the world, but she wouldn't miss the job. She knows that she got too close to it. Became far too involved. Besides, she has enough to concern herself with now.
Jack pulls into a parking space near the entrance and Ali opens her door. There's a slight breeze, and she's sure she can hear the sounds of music drifting out of one of the side buildings. Something choral, uplifting. She steps out of the car and crunches across the loose stones and broken concrete. The music is coming from a small round building on the edge of the car park. It takes her longer than it should to realise that it's not a recording; it's live. It's people singing. Something in Latin, or maybe Spanish. The four voices of the group make a soothing harmony, from the low bass drawl to the tinkling melody of the sopranos, the tenors and altos keeping the steady rhythm in between:
De noche iremo, de noche que para encontrar la fuente, solo la sed nos alumbra, solo la sed nos alumbra
They stand for a moment, listening as the same words are repeated over and over, as a chant. She has a sudden urge to jump back into the car, to tell Jack to drive away from this place, back to where they came from, or to somewhere else. Anywhere else. She turns around at the sound of the car door slamming shut. Jack is leaning against the bonnet, waiting. He almost looks as if he is smiling. She takes a breath. She can do this. They can do this. It's just music. It's singing. It's happy.
They can be happy. Here. In this place. This place is the answer to all of their problems.
She'll make sure of it.CHAPTER 2
'Ah, you've been listening to our attempts at something musical ...' A man strides towards them, a wide smile on his face creating an array of crinkles at the sides of his eyes. He pushes a long flop of greying hair away from his face with one hand, and extends the other towards them. Ali and Jack step forwards at the same time, crashing against each other. Ali pulls back, lets Jack shake the man's hand.
'Smeaton Dunsmore,' he says. He looks confused for a second, glancing around. 'Was no one here to greet you? I thought ...' he shakes his head. Smiles again. 'Never mind.' His accent is neutral – cultured but impossible to place. From the information he's sent her, and what she could dig up online, Ali knows he was born in Scotland, but there's barely a trace of it in his voice. Or his looks, for that matter. He is tall and slim, with a face that is all sharp angles. His eyes are the same shade of grey as his hair, and there's something vulpine about him that Ali is drawn to immediately.
'Jack Gardiner,' her husband says in reply. 'Pleased to meet you.'
Dunsmore holds Jack's hand for just a moment too long. Ali watches him as he locks eyes with Jack, trying to read him. Good luck with that, she thinks. Jack is a master at keeping his thoughts and emotions locked up tightly.
'I'm Ali,' she says, stepping forwards. She stretches out her hand, but Dunsmore steps in and holds her in an embrace. He smells of wood smoke and sweat. It's not unpleasant and she lets herself be held until he pulls away.
He lays his hands on her shoulders and smiles down at her. 'It's wonderful to meet you, Ali. I almost said "at last" but it really has been such a short time. It's very unusual for us to have anyone move in so soon after the first contact, but when you explained your circumstances to me and I discussed it with the others, how were we to refuse? An ex-policeman and an experienced nurse? We couldn't hope for more worthy additions to our little family.'
Sure, Ali thinks. The money we offered to bypass all the usual evaluations might've helped a bit too, right?
He winks at her, as if reading her mind.
'OK,' he says. 'Let's go inside. We need cups of tea, lots of cake, and a good chat before we move on to all the logistical bits. Am I right?' He nods at Jack. 'Perhaps you can park your car over there beside the low block? We like to keep the front of the building as free a space as we can manage.'
Jack walks back to the car. Ali feels cold, suddenly, and hugs herself. Dunsmore disappears inside, just as a trickle of bodies starts to wind its way across from the circular building to the main entrance. There is a chorus of hellos and hi's and welcomes, but no one stops. They vanish into the building, and Ali feels herself shrinking inside. She's confident enough when she knows people, but she struggles with pushing herself into new groups. Jack appears by her side and squeezes her hand. She wonders if he realises just how much of a battle this is going to be for her, never mind him. The idea of living in a community where everything is shared and her life is no longer just for her fills her with absolute terror. But the thought of losing Jack is that terror magnified by one thousand. She squeezes her hands into fists then stretches them out and shakes her arms. 'OK', she says. 'Let's do this.'
Ali and Jack walk together through the imposing main entrance, then through a small foyer, with built-in seats on either side and an open frame with a cricket bat mounted inside it and bearing a small brass plaque saying 'Osborne James: 1947' – an ex-patient, maybe? Or a benefactor? They follow the stragglers of the group at a safe enough distance to see where they are going but not so close as to crowd them. Ali's slightly surprised at the muttered greetings; she was expecting a bit more fanfare at their arrival. But maybe they aren't quite as important as she thought they might be. Maybe newcomers aren't that rare. Or maybe this myth of a friendly community is just that: a myth. Or, more likely, she's tired from the three-hour drive from London and already regretting the decision to come here.
She stops and holds out a hand so that Jack stops too, whirling round to face her.
'You're right,' she says. 'I don't know what I was thinking. I can't do this. We can't stay here —'
'Ali ...' Jack gives a tiny shake of his head. He looks at something somewhere over her shoulder, and Ali understands. She feels the heat of Dunsmore standing next to her.
'Don't worry,' he says. 'It's natural to have doubts. Unless you've been brought up in this kind of environment, it's bound to feel strange to you. Weird, even. I've heard most of the adjectives that people have come up with to describe us. We used to do open days, when we first started. We had a couple of barbecues, that sort of thing. Thought if the locals knew what we were doing and that we weren't a bunch of crazy Mansonesque whack-jobs – their words, not mine – that it would make things easier for us. We want to be fully self-sufficient here. That's the goal. Selling things would've helped with that. But you know what people are like. Besides, it's not only us the locals seem to be wary of, but the place itself. This house and the land it sits on has a very ... chequered past. You know what I mean?'
She senses he's not expecting her to respond to his final question, so she doesn't. Although she doesn't really understand what he's getting at. What chequered past? It was an asylum, and before that just the site of an old family home. She knows a bit about this landscape: often it's not possible to use it for much. There are expanses of empty fields, seemingly without purpose, and yet there is something different in the air here. Perhaps it's just the change from being in the city. She takes a breath and lets herself be guided into the room the others have entered. There are various sofas and armchairs, the décor clean but faded. On a chipped wooden sideboard there is an enormous, ornate brass gong, complete with a fluffy-headed mallet, hanging by a string.
'Javanese,' Smeaton murmurs. 'Got it on my travels. Beautiful, isn't it? We use it for guided meditations, and very occasionally if I need to summon everyone here fast. The sound reverberates quite remarkably, especially if you take the soft part off the mallet.'
Ali smiles, unsure of how to respond. It's a beautiful instrument. The singing she'd heard when they arrived was soothing and peaceful. Smeaton is nothing but friendly, so she has no idea why she feels so nervous. It was her idea, after all – as Jack reminded her in the car, several times. Yes, it was her idea. And it's a good one. At least it will be, once she comes to terms with it.
Jack seems miraculously unfazed by it all, despite being the one who protested ever since she'd set the plans in motion. She watches as he strolls confidently across the small sitting room to the sideboard on the other side, which contains an urn, cups and saucers and a plate piled high with chocolate-chip cookies. She watches as a young woman hands him a cup, and he smiles as she drops a teabag inside.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Lingering"
Copyright © 2018 S.J.I. Holliday.
Excerpted by permission of Orenda Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1 The Light,
Extract from The Book of Light,
Part 2 The Dark,
About the Author,