Saturday, 28 April 2012


Billy’s driving home, a gut full of beetroot vodka and of the pills his brother nicks from the hospital.  Course he shouldn’t be doing it.  No wonder then, that when he knocks over a pedestrian in the early hours of the morning he feels responsible.  A lump rises on his head and the guilt rises just about everywhere else.

They move the body, go home, take more pills and sleep it off.

Next day, Billy is called to the scene of a suspicious death, a possible jumper from Edinburgh’s Crags.  It’s not a jumper though, it’s the victim of Billy’s driving who managed to get to the bottom of the cliff before his body gave up on him.

Billy’s there in his role as a newspaper’s novice crime reporter.  His mentor, a seen-it-all-before kind of woman called Rose, finds out the name of the dead man; it’s one Frank Whitehouse, Edinburgh’s big, bad wolf.

From this point on the story is simply thrilling.

Johnstone writes with a fairly spare style, yet manages to explore a range of issues to the full.

It’s a very visceral book. 

I was reminded many times as I read of the pleasures of being young and of alcohol and drugs, and I’d like to thank the author for some of the flashbacks he induced.

All the experiences are through the mind and body of Billy, the man who earns the nickname ‘Scoop’ from his older hack partner due to his success in getting incredibly close to the case.  There are shades of pain I don’t think I’ve even contemplated before.  The smells and sights of the city bring the scenes to life.  It’s so well written that at times I felt I was inside Billy’s skin, and inside Billy’s skin was rarely a good place to be.

This book is fast-paced, yet thoughtful.  Everything happens in a short space of time within a small area of the city.  The world outside is full of pressure and, on the inside, the pressure inside Billy’s head builds to a crescendo.

I came out of the end of the ride fully satisfied. 

I’d suggest it’s a kind of Hard-Boiled ‘Crime And Punishment’ for the post-ecstasy generation, the love-child of a Dostoevsky/James M Cain/ Allan Guthrie triangle.

The characters are brilliantly drawn and explored.  What I like about the way they are brought to life is that it’s not because of the wedging in of detail that we come to know them, rather it’s through their interactions.   The ways they bounce off each other.  Boss and underling; boyfriend and girlfriend; two brothers; one man and his dog; lovers; feuding gangsters; dead and living; car and driver...

In particular, I think Billy and Rose are a brilliant pairing.  Either of them would make ideal characters for future books and I’d certainly rush to read any story Doug writes where they’re present (if sequels aren’t your bag, how about a short story or a novella, sir?).  In fact, this is such a great pleasure of a read that I’ll be rushing to read anything Doug Johnstone put out.


1 comment:

  1. I have been hearing great things about this book everywhere.