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by Doug Johnstone
Faber & Faber, March 2013
256 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 0571296602

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Mark Douglas is a photojournalist living in the Edinburgh district of Portobello with his wife Lauren and their six-year old son Nathan. A call to say his wife never arrived to pick up Nathan after school kicks off a nightmare period for Mark; Lauren is missing and he has no clue why. Mark initially suspects a repeat of an episode of the postnatal depression that led to her disappearance for two weeks after Nathan's birth. However, he becomes convinced that Lauren's boss knows something more than he is prepared to say, and their flat suffers a break-in where the thieves seemingly overlooked more valuable items than they took. The police fail to make progress, and Mark takes events into his own hands.

The book falls into two distinct parts. In the first, the condition is one of uncertainty. We hear about Mark's fears and speculations about his wife's disappearance, his interaction with his son, and chunks of back story about his wife and her difficulties coming to terms with abuse she received as a child from her father. All this acts as a distraction, and the clues offered to the disappearance are rather obviously downplayed. But just under half way through, everything changes: the book shifts into action mode, and the pace rises briskly to an extended and thrilling climax.

GONE AGAIN is narrated entirely from Mark's perspective: the heavy mental stress on him imposed by circumstances is understandable, and legitimately exploited by the author. However, he further enhances the level of tension by giving Mark a real problem with anger management; the difficulty with this is that the reader may find empathy a problem. Johnstone did something similar in his previous book HIT AND RUN: the protagonist begins in a situation which could happen to anyone but before long his hang-ups (guilt and drugs) lead to behaviour that would be hard to relate to.

Giving leading characters a twist runs the risk that readers may find them less easy to identify with, and perhaps less than wholly realistic. The compensating benefit is that once the premise is accepted, the protagonist is allowed a greater latitude, and as his behaviour slides out of control the action develops helter-skelter, making for great excitement.

GONE AGAIN is Johnstone's fifth novel, which suggests a solid readership. The strong point of his books is the setting of his stories, in a city that he clearly knows well, and also convincing contemporary cultural references: it is hard to think of any other author whose books are so reflective of their time.

Chris Roberts is a retired manager of shopping centres in Hong Kong, and now lives in Bristol, primarily reading.

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, February 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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