Blog Tour- Doug Johnstone- The Jump

 

Welcome to the next stop on the Doug Johnstone blog tour, coinciding with the release of his latest book The Jump. Raven is quite the fan of Mr J.  and have previously had the pleasure of reviewing both Gone Again and The Dead Beat , so what did The Jump hold in store…

The Jump, immediately draws us into the world of Ellie, a middle-aged woman struggling to come to terms with the seemingly inexplicable suicide of her teenage son, Logan, and the fractured relationship this has caused within her marriage to Ben. Living in the shadow of the Forth Bridge, where Logan ended his life, and succeeding in talking down another suicidal teenager, Sam, Ellie finds herself with a second chance in helping Sam, and gaining some kind of redemption from the sadness that defines her life. However, in becoming so closely involved with him, and his younger sister, Libby, Ellie becomes enmeshed in a family that is filled with secrets, far darker and more dangerous than she can possibly imagine…

When people decry genre fiction as somehow not being as worthy or the compare of ‘literary fiction’,  I have no hesitation in drawing their attention to books such as this. The Jump possesses an emotional intensity and sensitivity that is rarely encountered in any genre, harnessing emotional, and by their very nature, contentious issues that many writers in the ‘literary’ field would struggle to address in such an affecting way as Johnstone achieves. Obviously, the book is very much centred on the theme of suicide, both the causes of, and the aftermath for,  those left behind by this devastating act, and in the character of Ellie, Johnstone personifies all the linked emotions, doubts and blame that those left behind have to process. I loved the marked difference that Ellie and her husband exhibit in their reactions to the loss of their son, and the way that they too are faced with a leap of faith to restore their relationship to what it once was. Also with the interaction between Ellie and troubled teenager Sam, Johnstone blurs the lines between Ellie’s response to him as a mother, and a strange sense of sensuality, not sexuality, that seems to permeate their relationship. As we discover more about Sam, and his family (no spoilers from me), Ellie seems to undergo a marked change, and discovers a real inner core of strength that has been suppressed by her grief, and her journey back to her former resilience is moving throughout. With so much of the weight of the plot and the emotional issues therein on her shoulders, there was always a chance that Johnstone may have strayed down the route of mawkish sentimentality. He doesn’t, and must be applauded for his very sensitive, and most importantly, utterly real characterisation that Ellie embodies. As the plot unfolds into a very dark tale indeed, this sense of brutal reality persists, and is both shocking and redemptive in equal measure.

Another facet of the book that I enjoyed greatly was the absolute attention to sense of place, that Johnstone consistently shows in the book. With the incredibly visual depiction of this small riverside community, dwarfed by the architectural scale of the bridge itself, and the threatening power of this mass of water, Johnstone also draws a contrast of the smallness of our lives in the face of nature. His description of the life of the river and its environs, and man’s attempts to harness it, raises some interesting questions on our place within the natural world, but equally how the power of nature can provide succour in times of emotional uncertainty. I thought the description of Ellie’s wild swimming, where she sheds her land-bound skin, almost like a folkloric Selkie, to calm her restless spirit, was incredibly effective, and how this physical and, at times, perilous act brought her a closer connection with her son. It was beautifully done, and further ingrained in the reader’s sensibility the inescapable link that the water holds for Ellie in all spheres of her life.

You know how you sometimes encounter a book that just swirls around your consciousness in the wake of its reading, and pops back into your head at odd moments- well, this is most definitely one of those. The Jump is one of the most emotive and intense books it’s been my pleasure to read, and despite the weighty issues it explores, and the inherent sadness within its pages, ultimately one of the most satisfying. A brave, yet sometimes difficult, subject wonderfully handled. Prepare to be moved.

Peter May- Runaway

RUNAs much as it pains me to draw on the words of Forrest Gump, Peter May’s writing is like a box of chocolates- you never know what you’re going to get. From the brilliant Enzo Files series, to the China thrillers, to, the wonderful Hebridean trilogy, and the haunting standalone Entry Island, May consistently demonstrates his flexibility as a writer, instilling total belief in his characters and locations for us gentle readers. Runaway proves itself an excellent addition to his multifarious back catalogue, and drawing so closely on his own life experiences gives us a delightful insight into the background of one of Britain’s finest crime writers*.

Working with a dual timeline of 1965 and 2015 the story pivots seamlessly between the two as we follow the travails of Jack Mackay, a headstrong seventeen year old in the Sixties, who succumbs to the allure of the bright lights of London, as he and his band (comprising of Maurie, Joe, Luke and my favourite character, Dave) run away from Scotland to seek their fame and fortune. May captures perfectly the impetuousness of youth, and their black and white view of the world, after a series of hapless accidents mar their dreams of fame. Into the mix, May inserts the womanly charms of Rachel, Maurie’s cousin who they liberate from a drug-fuelled abusive relationship along the way, a few interesting brushes with stardom, an encounter with a bizarre hippy therapy group, and a murder where all is not how it appears. With a backdrop of the swinging music scene of the era, and a perfect recreation of London itself, there is much to garner the reader’s interest. Now, zap forward to 2015, and Jack is a disillusioned pensioner lamenting a life where so much more could have happened, However, with the news of a suspicious death linked to his 60’s experience, and spurred on by the terminally ill Maurie, he and the remaining members of his band, up sticks to London with his grandson Ricky, to revisit the past and lay some old ghosts to rest but at what cost? And are some skeletons best to be left nestled in this particular cupboard?

My overarching reaction to this book is one of warmth. I loved the poignancy attached to Jack and his cohorts in their twilight years, haunted by their failed dreams and ambitions, but undercut by a humour and determination of spirit that we so often ignore when we perceive people as old. Likewise, May totally taps into the irascibility and naivety of youth, in the 60’s timeline, and the exploits of this band of hotheads, and their emotional entanglements are powerfully wrought. To my mind, the actual crime element of this book was completely over-ridden by this strong characterisation and the examination of the impetuousness of youth, and the stoicism of age that so dominates the plot. Hence, this was a different reading experience, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed, manipulating my emotions from laughter to sadness, and all points in-between. I liked the utterly authentic recreation of the 1960’s, with its allusions to people, places and fashions, tempered by the relatively anodyne existence of our band of misfits in their later years. A welcome break from the usual crime fiction fare, and highly recommended.

*If like me, you are left wondering how much of May’s experiences are contained in Runaway, have a look at this interview courtesy of Shots, the crime and thriller Ezine, and here at Crime Fiction Lover

Also many thanks to fellow blogger Fiction Fan  for drawing my attention to this musical triumph:

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)