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by Doug Johnstone
Orenda Books, November 2018
300 pages
ISBN: 1912374151

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Doug Johnstone's novel FAULT LINES imagines the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, slightly misaligned with the reality we know. Earthquakes of various intensities continually shake the town. A volcanic island, called The Inch, was created in the Firth of Forth by an eruption about two decades before the present time of the book. This island is the centerpiece of Johnstone's tale. The scientists at the local university study it, and its physical presence looms over the characters.

As the book opens, a young doctoral research scientist, Surtsey, rows out to the island to meet her lover—an older man named Tom who is also her boss and her advisor. They are part of the team who often go to the island to collect samples, and the lovers meet in the research shack used by this team. But this time, Tom is not there and when she looks for him, she discovers his bloody body. Someone has bludgeoned him to death.

Rather than report the crime immediately, Surtsey grabs his cell phone and leaves, afraid that their affair will now be revealed. He has a wife and family and she doesn't want people to find out that they were together. Surtsey is also involved with a young man her own age, a fellow student named Brendan, and she does not want him to know about her relationship with Tom.

Trying to cover up what she found and why she was on the Inch alone leads her to more and more lies. But it seems that someone knows what she has seen. She keeps getting unnerving messages on the phone that she took from Tom's body. Someone seems to be watching her every move and knows that she had seen the dead body before it was discovered.

Surtsey lives with her sister Iona and a roommate Halima. She and her roommates smoke too much grass and drink too much wine. The police suspect Surtsey, but Surtsey makes Halima promise to lie for her and say that she was at home all evening. As all of this unfolds, Surtsey's mother Louise is dying. She is in a nearby hospice, being looked after by the staff but most especially by a caretaker named Donna, who happens to have been at school with Surtsey, although a couple of years behind her. Donna's obvious compassion and focus on Louise impresses Surtsey, who begins an awkward friendship with the young woman.

Could things get worse? They do. The unthinkable happens—everyone in Surtsey's life, including the police and Tom's family, receives photos of her and Tom together.

Often a mystery thriller has too many suspects. But no one here stands out as a likely culprit in the multiple murders—yes, other people are killed as we go along—or as the sender of mysterious messages. The author does not leave the reader hanging, however. In an unexpected and explosive ending, we do learn who has been committing the crimes and why.

§ Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, October 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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