Author – Doug Johnstone
Published – 2017
Genre – Crime fiction
I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while and if I’m honest I was slightly put off by the blurb. While I do read speculative fiction books they’re definitely the exception rather than the rule and it was the ‘reimagined contemporary Edinburgh’ that caused the delay in my starting. In fact I needn’t have delayed, the premise concerns the discovery of a man’s body on a volcanic island in the Firth of Forth, the reimagining having created a volcanic island, but in fact this is actually the only part of the book that is different to contemporary Edinburgh, in every other way this book’s world is ours.
The body is discovered by Surtesy, a PhD student, and the dead man, Tom, is her boss and her clandestine lover. In a decision she may come to regret she abandons the body and waits for someone else to make the discovery. In the meantime she receives a mysterious message from someone who knows something they shouldn’t.
The story is told from Surtesy’s point of view and her life wasn’t a particularly happy one before her lover’s death. She is sharing a house with her younger sister, who is something of a rebel, and her best friend from the university, and they seem to spend a lot of time drinking or taking drugs. They’re all living in the house that was Surtsey’s family home as her mother is in a hospice along the road.
As the discovery of Tom’s body opens up a police investigation aspects of Surtsey’s life come under the spotlight and she has to acknowledge the damage that her affair has done. At the same time she has to contend with her terminally ill mother with whom she has an uneasy relationship, then there is another death of someone close to her.
This is a book that just didn’t do it for me. I did find the ‘mysterious message’ aspect of the story gripping and it added an extra level of tension. I do think it could have a better sense of the place, I felt that the volcanic island could have been off any piece of coast and it wouldn’t have made too much difference to the story. I enjoyed the writing and was swept along with wanting to reach the end but I didn’t really like Surtsey too much, I was confused by the need for the volcanic island and I figured out the ‘whodunnit’ too soon.
Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.