Today it is my great pleasure to be taking part in the blog tour for Fault Lines, the brand new thriller from Doug Johnstone set in an altered version of the Edinburgh landscape which you might not quite recognise. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the book in just a moment, as soon as we’ve seen what it’s all about.
About the Book
Brilliantly constructed speculative crime fiction
A classic whodunit
Dark psychological suspense
Doug Johnstone returns with his most explosive and original thriller yet…
A little lie … a seismic secret … and the cracks are beginning to show…
In a reimagined contemporary Edinburgh, where a tectonic fault has opened up to produce a new volcano in the Firth of Forth, and where tremors are an everyday occurrence, volcanologist Surtsey makes a shocking discovery.
On a clandestine trip to new volcanic island The Inch, to meet Tom, her lover and her boss, she finds his lifeless body, and makes the fatal decision to keep their affair, and her discovery, a secret. Desperate to know how he died, but also terrified she’ll be exposed, Surtsey’s life quickly spirals into a nightmare when someone makes contact – someone who claims to know what she’s done…
I love Edinburgh. Quite possibly my favourite Scottish city. I’ve visited a few, by no means all, but enough to be able to say that at least. I used to spend my summers on a camp site in Mortonhall. With therapy, I’ve been able to put that behind me, but I do still have a fascination with the city, the familiarity of the landscape I knew as a child and which I have recently become re-acquainted with by virtue of having to open a depot on the edge of the city. So when I heard that this book was to be set in a reimagined version of this beautiful city, I was intrigued. And when you couple with the fact that it’s written by an author with the pedigree of Doug Johnstone, and published by Orenda, whose taste in literary offerings I trust implicitly and preorder without hesitation, I was expecting to find something quite special here.
I was not disappointed.
What an opening. As scene setting goes, this was pretty dang perfect. You knew the what, you knew the where and you knew the who. All you were missing where the how and why. And there is where we find the main focus of this story – determining just who may have been responsible for the brutal murder of Surtsey’s Professor and lover, Tom. Needless to say, their clandestine meetings, indeed Surtsey’s presence at the scene of the crime soon after the murder, make her a prime suspect as far as the police are concerned. But someone knows the truth, someone who is determined to taunt and harass Surtsey, but to what end you have to read to find out.
From the very opening scenes, Doug Johnstone creates such a sense of place that you will feel you know every inch of the city, every line of the beach and this new coastline that he has created in his novel. Even if you don’t know the city you will never feel lost as the book takes you to into the scene, planting your feet firmly in the middle of the action, the descriptions so vivid that you will feel as though you are there. In fairness, even a native would be a little uncertain of this new landscape, a volcanic island, ‘The Inch’, dominating the Firth of Forth, earthquakes interrupting the natural peace that we take for granted, but within a few pages, you are ready to accept this as the norm. That ‘The Inch’ has always been there. That maybe it actually exists. That is how real this book makes it all feel.
And yet this is all a story. All make believe. As incredible as the Forth opening up to reveal a new island, new life, may be, there is nothing unrealistic about murder, nor the emotions and interactions between characters that you witness in this novel. The friendships, the family ties, even the family rifts, they are all so believable, natural in their portrayal, that you know that you have met someone just like them, somewhere in your real life. Doug Johnstone has captured modern living perfectly, albeit with a slight twist, and turned the emotional baggage, mistrust and poor communication against the characters to create a really thrilling and intriguing mystery.
I really liked the character of Surtsey. She was very human, if that makes sense? By that I mean that she was flawed, as many protagonists are, but in a very natural and relatable way. They way in which she struggled with her mother’s illness, her sister’s apparent lack of compassion or understanding and her own feelings, torn as they were between her two lovers, one married, one oblivious to her affair. She makes bad decisions, ones which come back to haunt her, but she also has an inner strength which carries her through the trials she is faced with, also makes her blind to the dangers around her. I wanted her to come good, wanted her to find her answers, wanted her to succeed. I also wanted her to just be honest for once, although the gentle honesty of her passion for the land, inherited from her mother, was something which really endeared her to me. I do think she may divide readers a little but for the most part, they should be on her side.
As for the central story – the murder of Tom and the menacing messages Surtsey subsequently receives – well it is a slow burner at first, the author taking his time over setting out the full story, allowing Surtsey’s own story to build as the investigation unfurls around her. In spite of this I found myself flying through the book – relatively short at 300 pages – and in the dying pages the action and threat comes thick and fast. I had an inkling at one stage as to what may happen, perhaps finding one of the characters a little unsettling, but this didn’t dull my enjoyment. Maybe the ‘I knew it’ moment even enhanced it a little.
I have to say the ending still surprised me a little, not entirely what I was expecting and certainly this is the point in which you feel your pulse begin to spike as the threat level increases massively. The build in tension is echoed in the narrative, as the tremors caused by the island increase in frequency and volume, all foreshadowing the impending showdown, one which happens in a most dramatic way.
If you are looking for a pacey thriller, one with a fierce and determined character, a little obsessed with rocks it has to be said, and a killer (literal and figurative) twist, then you definitely need to read this book. This was a very cleverly plotted look at the whole idea of infatuation and obsession. It was my first Doug Johnstone title (I know – I have already admitted many times to being useless) but it won’t be my last. I am thankful Orenda chose something that little bit different, where the threat comes as much from nature itself as from the people who seek to control it. I loved it.
Fault Lines is available now from the following retailers:
About the Author
Doug Johnstone is an author, journalist and musician based in Edinburgh. He’s had eight novels published, most recently Crash Land. His previous novel, The Jump, was a finalist for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. Several of his other novels have been award winners and bestsellers, and he’s had short stories published in numerous anthologies and literary magazines. His work has been praised by the likes of Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Irvine Welsh. Several of his novels have been optioned for film and television.
Doug is also a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow. He’s worked as an RLF Fellow at Queen Margaret University, taught creative writing at Strathclyde University and been Writer in Residence at both Strathclyde University and William Purves Funeral Directors. He mentors and assesses manuscripts for The Literary Consultancy and regularly tutors at Moniack Mhor writing retreat. Doug has released seven albums in various bands, reviews books for The Big Issue magazine, is player-manager for Scotland Writers Football Club and has a PhD in nuclear physics.
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