Gone Again by Doug Johnstone
Edinburgh-based Doug Johnstone has pared down the breadth of his subject matter – his last novel, Hit and Run used the setup indicated by its title in thrilling, unexpected ways, but was absolutely and completely driven by its characters, portrayed by Johnstone with riveting emotional realism. Gone Again raises the bar even higher, focusing on a small, closed loop of a plot, concerned first and foremost with the devastating effects of grief, suspicion and suppressed emotion on its finely-drawn characters.
When photojournalist Mark Douglas’s wife disappears for the second time, he is upset and concerned, but a huge part of him is not surprised. As he investigates her disappearance, while simultaneously trying to take care of his young son, and repairing relations with his mother-in-law, Johnstone skilfully unwinds the couple's haunted, troubled history, dropping clues to Lauren Douglas’s fate with a marked precision.
The minutiae of the novel are what captivate, though – Mark's son’s Star Wars obsession, and how he uses it to deal with his insecurity and unhappiness; Mark's own barely-controlled grip on his anger, and the remorse he feels; even the supoorting cast, from grimy street toughs to arrogant, wealthy gangsters, are depicted with a realism that feels lived-in, natural. Without an ounce of fat on the lean plot, which drives towards a nail-biting climax, Gone Again is Johnstone's most controlled novel yet, riveting from start to finish. [Bram E. Gieben]