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by Doug Johnstone
Michael Joseph, August 2006
256 pages
ISBN: 0141027576

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

David Lindsay is a 30-something slacker working for an Edinburgh internet company that's going down the pan fast. His alcohol-fuelled life is interrupted by a blast from the past in the shape of Nicola Cruickshank, an old schoolfriend.

Nicola wants him to attend a school reunion in the Scottish coastal town of Arbroath. David isn't at all keen. He hasn't been back for 15 years for a very good reason -- his best friend Colin died when he fell off a cliff. David's parents have long ago moved to France, so there's nothing to pull him back to the town.

Apart from the beautiful Nicola, who he has always fancied, that is. So he agrees to accompany her, and soon finds himself in the middle of the school reunion from hell. And the locals seem to have taken up the pastime of jumping off cliffs, calling it tombstoning. David soon starts to wonder why those around him keep dying.

TOMBSTONING is a mystery, but not to be read for that. There's not a lot of tension, and the ending is fairly obvious. What it is worth reading for, though, is author Doug Johnstone's eye for a setting. You will spend a lot of the book wriggling and cringing at some fairly familiar situations, particularly the very ghastly school reunion, seemingly attended by losers, meatheads and dopeheads, the football match between two teams of hackers and camels, and the obligatory drinking sessions in spit and sawdust pubs.

Johnstone's characterisation is very sharp, with Nicola being the driving force. David's fairly infuriating and you want to shake him periodically, but he's persistent and has a sense of right and wrong. It's fun watching him reinvigorate his old relationship with Nicola.

So, this is no gripping mystery. Instead, it's a readable slice of life book, with a mystery element, which will have you both nodding and cringing as you spot some horribly familiar people and places, no matter where your home town is!

Based on this debut novel and its fluent narrative voice, I suspect Johnstone has an outstanding book in him. TOMBSTONING isn't it, but in the meantime it will do fine.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, August 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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