Sitting in the departure lounge of Kirkwall Airport, Finn Sullivan just wants to get off Orkney. But then he meets the mysterious and dangerous Maddie Pierce, stepping in to save her from some unwanted attention, and his life is changed forever…
I must confess that when I initially read the book description, my first thought was, ‘ well, this doesn’t sound like a Doug Johnstone book to me,’ having been completely blown away by the sensitivity and raw emotion of his previous book The Jump . However, the Raven’s slightly ruffled feathers were quickly smoothed, as after the initial seat-of-your-pants scenes of an air crash in the seemingly tranquil peace of Orkney, my equanimity was quickly restored…
Drawing on my earlier comment, I think what Crash Land demonstrates so effectively is the flexibility of Johnstone as a writer. With his main protagonists of Finn and Maddie, and the intensity of the relationship that builds between them as events unfurl, Johnstone confidently, and most importantly believably, draws together two people so defined by their differences of experience into a claustrophobic and tense relationship. Finn is a naïve, slightly gauche young man, who, as is the wont of young men generally, is initially attracted to Maddie on a primal level. Maddie, older, experienced and obviously a woman carrying a burden of emotional torment, realises the usefulness of this young man’s infatuation with her, as her plans for escape from Orkney are thwarted. Johnstone carefully builds up this symbiosis between them, as Finn finds himself in the unwelcome spotlight of the police and the media, following the plane crash, and Maddie’s complicated emotional ties, and possible acts of violence come to light. Finn puts the reader through some emotional upheaval, at times being a sensitive young man, who was deeply affected by the death of his mother and attachment to his grandmother , and then being so boundlessly naïve you want to put him in a sack and shake him. I found Maddie an intriguing and mercurial character, who manipulates our feelings as a reader as much as she draws in the hapless Finn, proving there is much more to her than meets the eye…
The landscape of Orkney and the Scottish isles in general, has proved itself a rich hunting ground for many British crime authors, as its similarity to the bleak Scandinavian terrain affords ample opportunity for psychological exploration. Johnstone has obviously immersed himself fully in the unique topography and history of Orkney, as the clarity and authenticity of his depiction of the landscape, people and spiritual and mythical backdrop of the island shines through every description. I loved the evocation of the island’s history and the way it has shaped its hardy souls in terms of their stoicism and mental toughness, as the sea and elemental weather conditions rage around them. Johnstone confidently mirrors the bleakness and raw beauty of the island in the psychological travails of his protagonists, and the more nefarious activities that the remoteness of this location lends itself to. The descriptive element of this book is never less than perfect, and Johnstone uses it to its full effect.
With consummate skill Johnstone takes his reader from a high octane, emotionally charged opening, then slowing the pace radically to provide a thoughtful and intriguing exploration of the relationship between Finn and Maddie, and our changing perceptions of both. By weaving together these two elements so effectively, alongside the pitch perfect depiction of the mercurial nature of Orkney itself , Crash Land ticked all the boxes for this reader, and proved a satisfying and engaging thriller. Highly recommended.
(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)
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