Finn Sullivan wants to get back to his home and girlfriend in Dundee for Christmas. He's been visiting his grandmother on the island of South Ronaldsay in Orkney, and is waiting in the departure lounge at Kirkwall Airport for his flight south to Edinburgh. But the weather is at best marginal and the flight is delayed. There are few fellow-passengers. A couple from Yorkshire, a group of oil-workers, and a beautiful woman who Finn has never seen before, Maddie Pierce. To avoid the unwanted attentions of one of the oil workers, Maddie joins Finn at the bar, where they drink gin to pass the time. At last the weather clears enough for the plane to leave. But then things begin to go wrong, and Finn and Maddie become central participants in a chain of events that leads to disaster and tragedy.
"Crash Land" by Doug Johnstone is a superbly written book that grips the reader by the throat and refuses to let go, shaking them occasionally for good measure. It's also a book that it's very hard to discuss without revealing too much and spoiling the plot's many twists and turns. We've been careful above not to give away more than you can readily discover from the cover blurb and artwork. What follows the disaster and tragedy develops into a tense thriller that in some ways is a little reminiscent of John Buchan's "The Thirty-Nine Steps". An innocent protagonist - relatively innocent, anyway - finds himself suspected by the police, yet caught in a web of circumstances that prevent him proving his innocence. Meanwhile the stakes are increasing. Disaster is followed by murder, and Finn is only too aware that his feelings about who is guilty and who is innocent may be totally wrong. Yet for reasons he cannot fully explain to himself, he is locked in to a particular course of action which only serves to make him the focus of ever more suspicion and hatred.
There are a number of factors that make this such a memorable novel. The first is a storyline that keeps the reader engaged throughout and guessing right to the end. The second is a set of highly believable characters, especially Finn, his grandmother Ingrid and the mysterious and dangerous Maddie. And the third is the location. There's something about an island setting for a thriller that adds a sense of focus and give it a greater intensity. But to deliver that successfully, the setting needs to come to life off the page, and it has to be said that Doug Johnstone's Orkney is utterly believable, providing a perfect backdrop to (and, at times, participant in) a book we'd highly recommend.