The Dead Beat by Doug Johnstone

Book Review by Bram E. Gieben | 02 Jun 2014
Book title: The Dead Beat
Author: Doug Johnstone

Martha Fluke has just been assigned to the 'dead beat' – the obituaries desk of an Edinburgh newspaper in decline, and her dead father's former place of work. As she learns the ropes, hoping to gain a career in journalism, she is drawn further and further into a web of half-truths and white lies which could unravel her sanity, family history, and new career. She discovers some shocking facts about what life was like back in the era of Walkmans and grunge bands, before smart phones and the internet.

Doug Johnstone's new novel shows an Edinburgh as seen through the eyes of present-day twenty-somethings, and he evokes it vividly. But the other half of the novel is rooted in the indie scene of early 90s Edinburgh, and Johnstone's clever interweaving of the two time periods allows for some masterful suspense.

While not as poignant and heart-stopping as the magnificent Gone Again, or as unforgettable as the gangster-laden, painkiller-powered thrill ride of Hit and Run, The Dead Beat still sees Johnstone in fine stride, and in Martha Fluke he has the perfect foil through which to view the bands, songs, technology and culture of his own misspent youth. Her soliloquys on cassettes, The Breeders and Teenage Fanclub charm effortlessly. As ever, Edinburgh is a central character, her geography tightly coiled around the plot's serpentine twists and turns. This is superior crime fiction, a level up from the repetitive procedurals and thinly-veiled politicising of more mainstream tartan noir. [Bram E. Gieben]

Out now, published by Faber and Faber, £12.99