Tag Archives: Doug Johnstone

Gone Again by Doug Johnstone

gone again

 

After the drink fuelled violence of Smokeheads and Hit and Run’s sexy, pill-popping rough and tumble Doug Johnstone was my go-to author for manchild hijinks, but his latest novel Gone Again signals an intriguing change of focus as he shifts into the domestic sphere.

Photographer Mark Douglas is vainly trying to snap a pod of whales on Portobello beach when the school calls to tell him his wife hasn’t arrived to collect their young son Nathan.  Initially it’s just a minor annoyance, nothing to worry about; Lauren’s job at an upmarket Edinburgh estate agents is demanding enough to cause these little derailments, so he picks Nathan up and takes him home, but as the afternoon draws into evening and Lauren’s phone goes unanswered Mark begins to realise something is seriously wrong.

His immediate thought isn’t murder – as you might expect in a crime novel – but that Lauren has abandoned them.  She’s done it before, just after Nathan was born, suffering from crippling post natal depression, and Mark suspects that her current pregnancy may have tipped her over the edge again.  As the days go by he becomes less sure of that explanation though and with the police unwilling to investigate Mark begins to delve into the parts of Lauren’s life she’s kept hidden from him.  Through it all he struggles to maintain a tenuous normality for Nathan, while making it clear to the police that his own history of aggression – rearing it’s head again – has nothing do to with Lauren’s disappearance, but when his detective work sparks more violence Mark is forced to act.

The first half of the book is a heartbreaking examination of how a disappearance affects those left behind, the wild swings between hope and fear, the accusations and recriminations which get thrown around between family members, and at the core of the story is the relationship between Mark and Nathan.  Closely observed, picking out the seemingly trivial routines and jokes which bond a father and son, achingly poignant in places, this is some of the best writing Johnstone has done and illustrates why he is so highly regarded.  The second half of Gone Again, when the crime element of the book takes over, is more typical of his previous work, brisk, violent, whip through the pages stuff, and it builds to a perfectly satisfying end.

I must admit I was surprised at how radical a departure Gone Again was from Johnstone’s usual hard and fast crime writing but the shift towards a nuanced, slow burning psychological thriller has proved hugely successful, and I’d love to see more from him in this vein.

 

Available now.


Spring 2013 – Essential Pre-orders

So the top crime books of 2012 is done and dusted, time to start thinking about what’s coming up next…

Gone Again – Doug Johnstone

‘It’s just to say that no-one has come to pick Nathan up from school, and we were wondering if there was a problem of some kind?’

As Mark Douglas photographs a pod of whales stranded in the waters off Edinburgh’s Portobello Beach, he is called by his son’s school: his wife, Lauren, hasn’t turned up to collect their son. Calm at first, Mark collects Nathan and takes him home but as the hours slowly crawl by he increasingly starts to worry. With brilliantly controlled reveals, we learn some of the painful secrets of the couple’s shared past, not least that it isn’t the first time Lauren has disappeared. And as Mark struggles to care for his son and shield him from the truth of what’s going on, the police seem dangerously short of leads. That is, until a shocking discovery…

Out in early March Gone Again signals a shift in gear from Doug Johnstone. An emotionally fraught novel with a fabulous eye for domestic details, it’s a real heartbreaker.

gone again

Ratlines – Stuart Neville

Right at the end of the war, some Nazis saw it coming. They knew that even if they escaped, hundreds of others wouldn’t. They needed to set up routes, channels, ways out for their friends. Ratlines.’

Ireland, 1963. As the Irish people prepare to welcome President John F. Kennedy to the land of his ancestors, a German is murdered in a seaside guesthouse. He is the third foreign national to die within a few days, and Minister for Justice Charles Haughey is desperate to protect a shameful secret: the dead men were all former Nazis granted asylum by the Irish government. A note from the killers is found on the corpse, addressed to Colonel Otto Skorzeny, Hitler’s favourite WWII commando, once called the most dangerous man in Europe. It says simply: ‘We are coming for you. Await our call.’

Lieutenant Albert Ryan, Directorate of Intelligence, is ordered to investigate the crimes. But as he infiltrates Ireland’s secret network of former Nazis and collaborators, Ryan must choose between country and conscience. Why must he protect the very people he fought against twenty years before? And who are the killers seeking revenge for the horrors of the Second World War?

Like Stuart Neville’s previous books Ratlines merges the political and the personal to great effect. The period details are deftly deployed so that this historical crime novel feels fresh and punchy, and his hero Albert Ryan is a character I’d love to see more of. A bona fide single-sitting read, this one will grab you from page one.

ratlines

Runaway Town – Jay Stringer

After narrowly surviving a vicious knife attack, gangland detective Eoin Miller thinks he’s earned a break from hunting down thieves, runaways, and stolen drug money. But when crime boss Veronica Gaines tips him off to a particularly sensitive new case, his Romani blood won’t let him say no. A rapist is targeting immigrant girls, and the half-gypsy Eoin knows all too well just how little help an outsider can expect from the local police.

Besides, his client isn’t looking for someone to arrest the bastard. He’s looking for someone to stop him—for good. But the deeper Eoin digs, the more tangled he becomes in a web of corruption, racism, and revenge…especially once his troubled past threatens to derail the investigation by raising questions about his own loyalty and family ties. With his life teetering on the brink of disaster, Eoin realizes there is a fine line between justice and punishment. Now it’s up to him to decide just which side he’s on.

Old Gold, Jay Stringer’s debut, was a cracking read, grim and violent, pacy as hell, and Runaway Town continues in the same strong vein. Eoin Miller is an engaging protagonist, on the wrong side of the law but he has right with him most of the time, and this book takes him into territory often overlooked by crime writers. This series deserves to be huge.

runaway town

Where The Devil Can’t Go – Anya Lipska

A naked girl has washed up on the banks of the River Thames. The only clue to her identity is a heart-shaped tattoo encircling two foreign names. Who is she – and why did she die? Life’s already complicated enough for Janusz Kiszka, unofficial ‘fixer’ for East London’s Polish community: his priest has asked him to track down a young waitress who has gone missing; a builder on the Olympics site owes him a pile of money; and he’s falling for married Kasia, Soho’s most strait-laced stripper.

But when Janusz finds himself accused of murder by an ambitious young detective, Natalie Kershaw, and pursued by drug dealing gang members, he is forced to take an unscheduled trip back to Poland to find the real killer. In the mist-wreathed streets of his hometown of Gdansk, Janusz must confront painful memories from the Soviet past if he is to uncover the conspiracy – and with it, a decades-old betrayal.

Recently picked up by The Friday Project and with a paperback release in February this is a book which really makes a mark. Anya Lipska drags her readers into the murky, crime infested world of London’s migrant worker community and renders it pungent on the page in a way most writers could only dream of. Anya Lipska is definitely a name to watch.

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Matador – Ray Banks

A man wakes in a shallow grave next to a corpse to find himself shot, amnesiac and in deep trouble. Meanwhile, an expat drug runner finds out that he’s not the killer he thought he was.

That is all I know about Matador, but I want it. If you’re in the USA you can sign up for it in serial form already at $1.99. In the UK we’ve to wait until February, but on the upside it will be available as a paperback.

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Criminal Classics – Doug Johnstone

 

Doug Johnstone is a writer, rocker and journalist, his new novel Hit & Run is out right now, from Faber and Faber.

Doug’s pick is The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson…

 

 

 
Forget those cheesy images of old movies full of grimacing transformations, bubbling beakers and steaming potions, Stevenson’s original is a stonewall literary classic, and very definitely a crime novel, with a smidgen of horror thrown in.

 
It’s only a novella (my copy clocks in at under a hundred pages) but it’s densely packed with meaning and subtext, as well as being a rip-snorting page-turner to boot. The idea of distilling the human condition into its good and evil constituents (or, more accurately, into its moral and amoral parts) is brilliant and never executed better than here, as the well-to-do medical man Jekyll transforms himself into the base animal that is Hyde.

 
I’ve seen it argued that this is a book about drugs, alcohol or medication, either way, it’s certainly a book about addiction on one level, but I think Jekyll becomes addicted to Hyde’s way of living as much as anything else, in the end choosing to live and ultimately die as him, rather than conform to conventional life in Victorian London. Superbly atmospheric, genuinely disturbing and endlessly thought provoking, it’s a classic that seems as fresh today as the day it was written in 1886. Timeless genius.

 

– Doug Johnstone

 

The Criminal Classics series was prompted by a post which originally appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.