The publisher’s summary is:
“In a reimagined contemporary Edinburgh, in which a tectonic fault has opened up to produce a new volcano in the Firth of Forth, and where tremors are an everyday occurrence, volcanologist Surtsey makes a shocking discovery. On a clandestine trip to The Inch—the new volcanic island—to meet Tom, her lover and her boss, she finds his lifeless body, and makes the fatal decision to keep their affair, and her discovery of his corpse secret. Desperate to know how he died, but also terrified she’ll be exposed, Surtsey’s life quickly spirals into a nightmare when someone makes contact—someone who claims to know what she’s done.”
This led me to imagine I’d be reading a tense thriller in which a brave young vulcanologist in training would be stalked by an evil killer, with the probable involvement of a live volcano.
It’s not that kind of book. In many ways, it’s much better. Most of the “fault lines” are emotional rather than geophysical. It’s introspective, personal and deeply emotional.
Way back in Chapter One, when I was still living off the publisher’s branding rather than the author’s text, I found the novel hard to connect to. There I was, at the beginning of a promising thriller which opened with our heroine being where she shouldn’t be, discovering a dead body and running away unseen.
Hours later, in the middle of the night our, by now high on grass, heroine receives a text on a phone only she is supposed to know exists and which she retrieved from the dead body.
It’s a moment of high drama. I should be tense. But the text message takes my badly wired head to the wrong place. The message reads:
“I know you were there”.
And my mind, without hesitation, provided the reply she would make if she were a sassy American Urban Fantasy heroine rather than a Scottish vulcanologist:
“But do you know what I did last summer?”
Sadly, the heroine’s response was “Who is this?” and I was unable to continue with the novel until I’d given the voices in my head time to settle down and pretend to be grown-ups.
The chapters that followed didn’t pull me into some kind of Clarice Starling versus Hannibal Lecter cat and mouse thing. Instead I learned more about our heroine Surtsey: her relationship with her mother, who is in a hospice dying of cancer in her forties, with her sister who is losing herself in casual sex and alcohol and only really comes alive while serving behind a bar, with her he’s-cute-and-convenient classmate/lover and with her she-always-has-great-grass roommate.
It was well written, especially the relationship with the dying mother and with the if-I-ignore-it-it-isn’t-really-happening sister. The love, grief, shame, anger and helplessness were delivered with an authentic emotional punch.
That’s what carried me to the 65% mark in the book.
I abandoned it after another of Surtsey’s paranoid, anger and fear-driven violent outbursts.
I realised I don’t really care what happens to this woman. I feel sorry for the pain the deaths of those she loves is causing her but to me, she seems selfish, irresponsible, angry and violent. She uses the people around her to meet her needs without really connecting with them and she hides from her emotions and the consequences of her actions by staying drunk or high or both. It’s nicely drawn but it doesn’t make me root for her.
I’ll read more of Doug Johnstone’s work, but this one isn’t for me.