Blog Tour- Doug Johnstone- Crash Land

41iatw0focl-_sx324_bo1204203200_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)

Catch up with or continue to follow the tour at these excellent sites:

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Coastal Crime- Clare Carson- The Salt Marsh / Simon Booker- Without Trace

I don’t know.

You wait ages for crime thrillers set around the location of Dungeness, and then, like buses, three turn up at once.

So following my review in May for William Shaw-  The Birdwatcher  here are two more recommended reads that both draw on this haunting and desolate backdrop….

Carson_02_THE%20SALT%20MARSHSam Coyle’s father lived in the shadows – an undercover agent among the spies and radicals of Cold War London. That world claimed his life, and Sam is haunted by his absence. He left nothing behind but his enemies; nothing to his daughter but his tradecraft and paranoia. Now, her boyfriend Luke is missing too – the one person she could trust, has vanished into the fog on the Kentish coast. To find him, Sam must follow uncertain leads into a labyrinth of blind channels and shifting ground. She must navigate the treacherous expanse of the salt marsh…

I was absolutely blown away by Carson’s debut  Orkney Twilight which remains one of the most lyrical, perfectly plotted crime thrillers I have read to date. The Salt Marsh pretty much picks up from the events of the first book, but, fear not if you have not read Orkney Twilight as the author brings you up to speed quickly with the previous plot. It seemed to me that there was a perfect symmetry in this book, with Carson wholly appreciating the need to provide the reader with an intriguing mystery, but also to explore some more weightier themes both in the emotional facets of her young female protagonist, Sam, and the environmental issues that the disappearance of her boyfriend provides links to. The use of the coastal locations in this book (as Orkney was in the first book) firmly root us in the strange territory between the strength, desolate beauty, and mythical nature of the natural world, set against man’s mission to harness and use these natural resources for sometimes nefarious ends. Throughout the course of the Carson balances the scientific with the philosophical and the harnessing of the alchemical with themes of myth and superstition. It’s intelligent, involving, and raises the book above standard thrillers.

As Sam is increasingly drawn into a dark plot involving environmental activism, the memory and influence of her late father, an undercover operative, begins to put her in the orbit of his former employers who seek to malign or use her throughout the course of the book. Sam is an incredibly well-realised character, strong-minded and set apart from the rest of her family by her refusal to conform, or settle to anything meaningful or what is expected by others. To quote Star Wars (as one should in every review possible) the force is strong in her, and the  influence of her father resonates in her more than she at first realises. I love the balance Carson inputs in her character from moments of wilful stubbornness, to her sometimes emotional naivety, but always tempered by an admirable sense of right and wrong, and her determination to confront and challenge both. This also worked as an influence on the reader, as this book consistently makes you question what appears to be happening before you, drawing you into Sam’s confusion and her increasing distrust of those around her. My attention was held completely throughout the book, and I would urge you to read both Orkney Twilight and The Salt Marsh if you like your crime multi-faceted with a more literary leaning. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Head of Zeus for the ARC)

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WITHOUT-TRACEIn a change of pace, Without Trace is a humdinger of a thriller with more twists than a barrelful of adders. With summer holidays approaching and either being stuck in a caravan in rainy Rhyl, or on a flight to a more exotic beach vacation, this could be a perfect read…

Being practically impossible to review in terms of plot, due to the pitfall of numerous potential spoiler moments, I’ll steer clear of the plot as much as possible, as I read this in a vacuum avoiding every other review of it. What I would say is that from the outset, Booker has tremendous fun with his readers, all believing ourselves to be pretty good amateur detectives, in a murderous tale packed full of red herrings and twists aplenty.

As our intrepid heroine Morgan Vine, a fairly normal divorced mother of one, expends her entire strength into clearing the name of her childhood sweetheart, Danny Kilcannon, having campaigned for his release from prison, she is increasingly drawn into personal danger when her daughter disappears. Some would say that her daughter, Lissa, is such a charmless little madam, that we shouldn’t care too much about her fate, but Morgan is not to be thwarted. As her suspicions about Danny rise, and she gets drawn in deeper with two female detectives investigating Lissa’s disappearance, Morgan finds herself increasingly isolated and at physical harm. Is Danny really as innocent as she believes him to be, and just where the jiggins has Lissa gone?

This is a good old page turner, using the pace and strategic reveals so beloved of American authors like Linwood Barclay and Harlan Coben, and so leads to a book that one finds quite difficult to put aside as the energy and pacing of the plot drives you onwards. The characterisation has just enough clarity and depth to keep you intrigued by their personal travails, and Danny’s character in particular sways your empathy back and forth throughout. I will be honest and say that my incredulity was stretched as the end of the book approached, and the final denouement does take more than a bit of suspension of disbelief, as Morgan does suddenly morph into Lara Croft in a violent conclusion to the tale, but for all that, I quite enjoyed reading this entertaining thriller with its curve balls and false leads. Switch off, relax and enjoy the ride.

I still think the dead sheep was in on it though…

(With thanks to twenty7 for the ARC)