I had a wonderful time in Shetland when I visited it last year for Shetland Noir and I’ve had a hankering ever since to visit Orkney. It’ll probably be a while before I get the chance but, in the meantime, I’ve visited the archipelago in the latest book by Doug Johnstone.
Crash Land opens at Kirkwall Airport where Finn Sullivan is waiting for a plane to get out of Orkney and home for Christmas. He helps a woman escape the unwanted attention of a group of men but when they board a flight to Edinburgh trouble kicks off which ends in the plane crash landing. The woman, Maddie Pierce, disappears and, as one of the few survivors, Finn is left to both answer the police’s questions and help Maddie.
As I’d expect from Johnstone’s books, Crash Land is a taut, well-written thriller with an interesting premise. There are elements, however, that elevate it about the average crime novel. Finn Sullivan is young, only twenty-one and it make for an interesting dynamic that he is in thrall to a woman ten years older than himself. He makes jewellery for a living which contrasts well with his ability to roll up his sleeves and get involved in a fight when needed. There’s a sense of youthful bullishness about him and they way he is willing to get involved in Addie’s plight.
Orkney is well depicted, especially the small-windswept airport as is the Tomb of the Eagles which makes for an atmospheric backdrop to the story. The asides about Orkney culture and its attitude to mainland Scotland were fascinating and just what an armchair reader needs to transport you to the island. Crash Land is a perfect length – the story is told in 250 pages and, for me, it was a great autumn read.
With all the travelling that I’ve been doing for In Bitter Chill there has been plenty of time to catch up on some crime novels sitting in my TBR pile. I’ve also been reading for the Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction. Some of the books I’ve read have been excellent which promises for an interesting judging meeting in March.
I’m a big fan of Hans Olav Lahlum’s writing. As a classic crime reader I naturally like the late sixties setting and the nod in both style and content to some of the great crime writers. The Catalyst Killing is set in 1970 and revolves around the murder of members of a political group. Once more it’s the dynamic between the earnest Inspector Kristiansen and the talented but housebound Patricia that makes this book sparkle. A continuing theme in Lahlum’s work is the legacy of Nazi collaboration in the Second World War. It’s made it into all his novels so far and I’d like to see something different in the next one. But Lahlum is always a hugely enjoyable read. The translation is by Kari Dickson.
Karin Fossum is also a writer I enjoy reading but I’ve come late to her work and I’m behind on the series featuring Inspector Sejer. The Drowned Boy is a very clever book. In an age of multiple narrators, timelines and plot strands, Fossum’s premise is simple. Did the teenage Carmen drown her young son, Tommy? The fact that the dead child had Downs Syndrome gives the narrative added poignancy. Is Carmen showing frozen grief, heartlessness or cleverly disguising an evil nature? There’s an air of unreality to the plot and of justice only slowly coming to pass. The translation was again by Kari Dickson.
Doug Johnstone’s The Jump is a moving depiction of the aftermath of a teenager’s suicide on the boy’s mother, Ellie. After talking down another teenage boy from the Forth Road Bridge who was about to kill himself she tries to support him but plunges into a maelstrom of family secrets. It’s an unsettling read as we put ourselves in Ellie’s shoes and it’s great to read a book where the quality of the writing matches the calibre of the plot.
I met Alistair Fruish when I visited HMP Leicester where he is the writer in residence. Kiss my Asbo is a mix of science fiction and noir chronicling the adventures of a teenager who takes a blue pill and embarks on an angry rampage through Northampton. An unusual but entertaining read containing anger and humour in equal measure.