I love Doug Johnstone’s books. They do not end happily ever after. He recognises that life is messy, that people make mistakes and that there are consequences. And there is no question that Finn makes a mistake. It is not so much that he lets an older woman chat him up at Orkney Airport, when it is obvious that she is only doing it to get away from an oil worker who is sexually harassing her. It is the fact that he gets involved in a fight with the oil worker on a plane when all he had to do was call one of the stewards for help. This fight leads to the crash landing of the title and, this being a Doug Johnstone novel, mayhem follows.
Doug Johnstone obviously thinks that the Scottish Islands are places of dark passion and extreme violence. If you don’t believe me, read Smokeheads. There are enough bodies in Crash Land to make the Midsomer Murders look restrained. This book, however, is much more interesting than that because Doug Johnstone does not shy away from the ethical issues. To my mind, ethical issues lie at the heart of Johnstone’s writing, and his main characters do not always make the right choices. And Finn, as I have already said, does not necessarily make the right choices. He certainly does not make the sensible ones.
I cannot explain this conclusion because that would involve giving away the plot of the book. So what can I tell you about? I will start with the style. Johnstone is a master storyteller. He knows how to spin a yarn. He leads the reader on from cliffhanger to cliffhanger. Have no doubt about that. You will really want to know what happens next, and what will happen to Finn and Maddie. You may think that Finn is insane to get himself involved with Maddie, but you will certainly understand why he does. She is the classic femme fatale, prepared to use a young man for her own convenience, but you will wonder if she actually falls for Finn. If you think of D’Artagnan and Milady de Winter, you will get the idea. Or of Ava Gardner’s character in Showboat singing “Can’t help loving that man of mine”. Maddie is that kind of dangerous woman.
Doug Johnstone is superb at writing thrillers. He writes with verve and urgency. The motivations of his characters are plausible. You will not want to put this book down and at the ending you will think “Please God, no”.