Missing – Doug Johnstone novel


Let’s try and catch up with some of the great things that have been happening this month.

Music soon but first off let’s start with a book.

Doug Johnstone’s fifth novel ‘Gone Again’ was published a few weeks ago and initially took me a few days to track down. But it took almost no time at all to read as I polished it off in an afternoon.

Difficult as it may be to believe ‘Gone Again’ is  even more compelling than ‘Smokeheads’ and ‘Hit and Run’. To call it a page turner wouldn’t even begin to do it justice.

The book is split into two distinct sections. The previous two novels were driven forward by relentless pacing so  the first half of ‘Gone Again’ is something of a departure for Johnstone.

Freelance snapper Mark Douglas is out photographing a school of whales when he receives a call saying that his son hasn’t been picked up from school.

From there the book develops into a mystery as it becomes clear that Mark’s wife Lauren, who was supposed to be picking up their son, Nathan, is missing. The first half of the book deals with the uncertainty resulting from Lauren‘s absence, not least because she had disappeared before whilst suffering from post-natal depression. Its pacing is far more leisurely than anything he’s written since the first half of ‘Tombstoning’.

Johnstone handles this section of the book supremely well balancing Mark’s anxieties over his missing wife with his struggles to  retain a sense of normality for son Nathan. For all that there’s loads going on in this part of the book, including an unravelling of family secrets, large chunks of it are given over to the convincing father/son relationship.

However when Lauren‘s fate is revealed half way through the book kicks into another gear.

Doug’s demonstrated before his command of lean, brutal plotting (frankly, at times he seems to be the literary equivalent of Big Black) –  yet there’s an intensity about the second half of ‘Gone Again’ that surpasses anything he’s done before, perhaps because there’s a young kid involved. And if you thought that things were bad for Mark and Nathan in the first half of the book then things get so much worse before the end of the book.

So, yes, ‘Gone Again’ once again sees Johnstone putting his characters through all manner of suffering but this time around, unlike the last two novels, it’s impossible not to empathise with Mark’s plight.

In conclusion ‘Gone Again’ retains all the best elements of his previous books, specifically excellent characters and taut plotting, yet it also shows that he doesn’t need to rely on action all the time to write a great novel.  Terrific stuff.

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