Newest Review: ... be another death. However, when he arrives at the scene he snatches a glimpse of the body: the shoes and socks look sickeningly familiar.... more
A Hefty Slab of Scottish Noir
Hit and Run - Doug Johnstone
Member Name: fizzywizzy
Hit and Run - Doug Johnstone
Advantages: Gloriously grisly; great characters; just brilliant
Disadvantages: None that I noticed
The next morning, hung-over and in pain from injuries he himself sustained during the accident, Billy swallows another handful of pills before meeting his boss, Rose, at Salisbury Crags where the body of a notorious local gang-leader has been found. Billy breathes a sigh of relief; this wasn't where they dumped the man he hit so it must be another death. However, when he arrives at the scene he snatches a glimpse of the body: the shoes and socks look sickeningly familiar. If the body was found at this spot then the man couldn't have been dead and must have dragged himself to this spot before finally dying. What should Billy do? He has a story to write but he knows that he really ought to hand himself in. As the fear, the guilt and the drugs start to take their toll Billy sinks into an abyss from which there surely can't be any way back.
Frank Whitehouse, everyone agrees, wasn't the sort of man to kill himself so someone must have murdered him. Sworn rivals the Mackie brothers are top of the police's list of suspects but there's no way they are going to cop for something they didn't do. Only Billy knows the truth and when, looking for a scoop for the paper, he falls for the charms of Whitehouse's widow his problems only get worse.
Having read and loved Doug Johnstone's previous novel 'Smokeheads' last year my expectations for 'Hit & Run' were high: I was not disappointed. The novels have much in common, both portraying, at an unrelenting breakneck pace, the aftermath of one moment of madness. That the story is going to end badly is never in doubt: this is a story there can't really be a happy ending to but Johnstone leaves his readers wondering just how bad things can possibly get as Billy lurches from one disaster to the next.
In Billy Blackmore Johnstone has created a character who really messes with your head. He's a drunk driver and for that there can be no excuse but there's something about him that makes you want everything to work out for him, or at least not get any worse. The fact that the dead man is a gangster with a reputation for extreme violence almost automatically puts you on Billy's side, a feeling that grows stronger as the journalist delves deeper into Whitehouse's affairs.
As dark and occasionally brutal, as 'Hit & Run' may be, there are also pockets of humour; Johnstone has a fine ear for dialogue and captures the essence of Scottish banter, especially in the relationship between Billy and Rose. I loved that against all the chaos and violence Billy acquires a dog; popping more pills than all the patients on a neurology ward and spiralling fast towards a complete breakdown, the idea of Billy taking on a dog that needs to be looked after is darkly comedic. Staggering around Edinburgh and moving increasingly further from reality as he trails the poor dog around, Billy reminded me of those poor characters from the films of Shane Meadows, tragic anti-heroes that we end up rooting for.
Johnstone tells this story with admirable economy; he sets up characters quickly so as not to interrupt the blistering pace at which this story is played out. Even the flashbacks that describe the brothers' childhood illuminate our understanding of their relationship without distracting from the main event. Johnstone himself is almost journalistic in the way he includes only what needs to be in the story, yet at the same time captures those details which make this tale so vivid and believable.
Doug Johnstone can cut it with the very best of the Scottish noir set. I can't wait to find out what he's got up his sleeve. If it's half as good as 'Hit & Run' it's going to be a treat.
I was fortunate to spot this on promotion on bought the Kindle edition for just 99 Pence. The Kindle edition is now priced at £4.74 and the paperback at £5.27 (Prices correct on 16th April 2013). According to Faber & Faber, the publishers, the paperback edition has 272 pages
Summary: Killing a man is just the start of Billy Blackmore's problems.....