Jan/Feb 2017 Reviews & Interviews

Crash Land

Crash Land
Doug Johnstone.
Faber. 2017. 255 pp.
ISBN 978 0 571 33086 7.

Review by Ann Skea

Buy now from Amazon! Finn is waiting for a flight that will take him from the small airport at Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands (just off the North coast of Scotland) back to his flat in Dundee. The small aircraft is delayed due to fog, and in the airport waiting area a woman is being harassed by one of four men going on leave from the offshore oil rigs. She chooses Finn to rescue her, and they drink together and chat at the bar until the flight is ready to take off.

On the plane, the oil worker continues his harassment, a fight breaks out, and both Finn and the oil man end up being shackled with restraints by the cabin crew. Following airline procedure in the case of a disturbance, the flight turns back to Orkney, but the woman Finn has been befriending manages, while the cabin crew are occupied, to get onto the flight deck and grapple with the pilot in an attempt to prevent this. Then, in sudden turbulence, the plane crashes.

This dramatic start to the story is just a taste of the thrills that continue throughout the book.

Seven people die in the crash. Finn survives and so does the woman, but while he is rescued from the plane and hospitalized, she, and the holdall she has been carefully guarding, vanish.

Finn is allowed to return from hospital to his grandmother Ingrid's house on Orkney, where he had been visiting on the anniversary of his mother's death. The oil man with whom he fought remains in hospital in a coma, and since Finn had been seen to throw the first punch and the cause of the crash is not yet established, Finn is regarded with suspicion by the police. Meanwhile, the woman, Maddie, contacts him, wanting him to hide her. She gives him believable reasons for wanting to remain hidden. Drug-running, a violent husband, and large sums of money are involved.

Finn is sexually attracted to Maddie, and she uses this to manipulate him into helping her. It is never clear to Finn or to the reader how much of what she says is true, but when her husband and another woman are found murdered, the mystery deepens and Finn is already deeply entangled in it.

This is a fast-paced story with plenty of excitement, twists, and surprises. And Doug Johnstone uses the Orkney Islands, their remoteness, their ancient stone-circles and tomb-burials, their harsh beauty, and their close-knit community to make a fascinating setting. The people of Orkney, Finn's grandmother Ingrid, and her friend, Grace (who counsels Finn), a woman police officer, and a local journalist are all interesting characters, and Maddie remains an unpredictable puzzle:

"He thought about what she'd said. A dead husband, a bag of money, her panic on the plane. What did it take to kill someone? Would it show on your face if you could do that? He stared at her now."

Finn, is just an ordinary man taking an ordinary plane journey. His basic good-nature, his intelligence and kindness, all contribute to his involvement in a situation that changes his life dramatically, dangerously, and permanently. And Doug Johnstone tells his story skilfully, so that you almost believe what happened to Finn might happen to anyone.

Crash Land is a gripping, well-written, and enjoyable read.


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