When Briony Campbell confesses to killing her boyfriend, a straightforward crime of passion soon turns into a baffling mystery. Haunted by demons from his past, lawyer S.J. Robin is assigned to the case. But as confusion – and the body count – rises, he’s forced to question who is guilty and who is innocent. Can he see justice served and hold on to the woman he loves?
I’ve been slightly daunted by writing the review for this thriller, because I’m desperate not to give anything away. Volta really is a fast paced read, with a plot full of twists and turns and an engaging central character. Even more unusual, is the distinct thread of romance throughout. From the moment Briony wakes up covered in blood, I was drawn into the story. There’s an almost cinematic quality to the writing, because we’re totally in the moment as Briony wakes up and as her senses take in the terrifying situation she’s in so do ours. It’s a moment of of stillness that’s rare in the book. Then we pan out and see our other character’s reaction to the crime. Briony makes an statement to lawyer S. J. Robin that seems clear cut, but he soon realises the case is not that simple and as it becomes ever more entangled, it even brings his own demons to the surface.
The novel has three narrators: S.J, Briony and Mari. Mari is both Briony’s therapist and possible love interest to S.J, in a complicated coincidence. From the first time we see them together, it’s clear that S.J and Mari have history. Even more complexity comes in, when we realise that the investigator, Aris, is Mari’s brother – and they are a really convincing pair of siblings. It’s a small interrelated group of characters, and it creates a slightly claustrophobic feel. S.J relates his tale in the first person, and for some reason that makes me think he’s giving a true version of events. It’s an unconscious bias that I think comes from being a counsellor and ‘prizing’ the client’s account, never showing judgement or disbelief. However, I do love it when a novel’s narrator proves to be untrustworthy and as the story unfolded I started to feel a little unsettled by some aspects of the story – specifically S.J and Briony’s narratives. They each had an experience of trauma in their respective childhoods; from this it is easy to draw parallels between them. However, when a narrative’s in the third person we can see others interacting with our character, having inner thoughts about them and possibly being aware of their back story. A first-person narrative has no corroboration and though the difference in narrative perspective seems subtle it does have a large impact. S.J is intriguing. We learn very early in the novel, that he’s dealing with past trauma and his positioning as a victim also elicits sympathy from the reader – that is until doubts start to creep in. We learn that his psychological trauma could be permanent or at least difficult to heal, and this could create a further bond between him and Briony that is possibly unhelpful, both personally and in the investigation. I was left questioning what exactly had happened in Briony and S.J’s pasts? Did what happened with Briony relate to those circumstances? Can the victim have justice if S.J wins justice for Briony – are they the same thing? In between is the push and pull of S.J and Mari, whose attraction gave the book more of a light-hearted feel
Although the novel moves along at an incredible pace, I could identify certain threads or themes running throughout, always at the back of my mind like a constant nagging voice. I seemed to be thinking constantly, even when I wasn’t reading the book! Make no mistake these are complicated characters, with psychological damage that’s affecting their everyday lives and their work. Their relationships are difficult, or even broken. The author’s grasp of the consequences of trauma are nicely nuanced and I felt safe in the hands of a writer who understood psychological trauma well. In fact the reader works as a fourth character, bringing their own bias and assumptions to their assessment of Briony. The word ‘Volta’ is defined as a literary device, used in poetry. It’s a rhetorical shift, or a dramatic change in mood, emotion and tone. That’s how this book feels as a reading experience, I found myself shifting constantly in my assessment of Briony based on how one of the other characters viewed her or when a twist in the narrative turned everything on it’s head. This would be a great book club choice, because I imagine every reader has a different perspective. This is a strong, intense and clever thriller with characters to match.
Meet The Author
Nikki is a novelist and poet who grew up in London. She attended state school in Camden and spent her time hiding in the library. She is managing editor of streetcake magazine, which publishes innovative writing. She also runs the streetcake writing prize and MumWrite, a development programme for mums. Her novel, ‘Ellipsis’ was published by Sparkling Books in 2010. Additionally, she has been published in magazines and online. Her chapbook ‘exits/origins’ and collection ‘Hope Alt Delete’ are published by The Knives, Forks and Spoons Press. She won the Virginia Prize for fiction 2020 and her novel, Volta, was published by Aurora Metro Books in 2021. Her pamphlet, ‘I’d Better Let You Go’ was published by Beir Bua Press in 2021.
Nikki loves mysteries, thrillers and things that make her think. Some of her favourite books are Catch-22, the Raymond Chandler books, How to Life Safely in a Science Fictional Universe and anything by Yoko Ogawa.
Her other interests include watching many genres of films and attending events such as poetry readings, sport, and gigs. You can start conversations with her by discussing your favourite type of cake, your favourite Avenger or telling her a fun fact. She loves travelling and trying local cuisines.