Take Ellie Napier. Since her teenage son killed himself six months ago, she has been making daily visits to the towering Forth Road Bridge where he threw himself to his death. She traces her only child’s last journey and swims in the swirling estuary waters that killed him.
But when she sees a chance to atone for her son’s death, Ellie finds herself immersed in secrets so dark and so disturbing that she is soon dangerously out of her depth.
Doug Johnstone, author of a string of gripping thrillers, including Gone Again, Hit & Run and The Dead Beat, returns to home territory in Edinburgh in a pulsating psychological page-turner which blends edge-of-the-seat suspense with a searing exploration of love, loss and parenthood.
Harnessing his now trademark gifts for superb plotting and sizzling action, Johnstone uses his heart as well as his ‘thriller’ brain in this moving and very contemporary tale which lays bare the devastating effects of a child’s unexplained death.
Guilt, emotional paralysis, obsession, isolation, despair and recklessness all have a part to play as a lost and bereaved mother decides that you can do anything… if you have nothing left to lose.
Ellie Napier and her husband Ben have still not come to terms with the death of their 15-year-old son Logan six months ago. He left no suicide note, had made no previous attempts to kill himself and had never made a cry for help.
Ben fills the void by chasing bizarre conspiracy theories as to why Logan killed himself while Ellie ransacks her memories for glimpses of her lost child and makes daily trips to the bridge to linger on its footpaths and swim in the waters below.
And it is there that she finds 17-year-old Sam McKenna, wearing blood-stained clothing, teetering on the edge of the bridge and ready to throw himself to his death. She doesn’t know what drove him to the precipice and what made him so desperate to end his life but at least with Sam, she has a chance to help him and find the answer.
But however good Ellie’s intentions may be and however determined she is to never let any harm come to this boy, she has no idea of the dangers facing her… an angry, mixed-up teenager and troubled family who have some very dark secrets of their own.
Johnstone is on top form in an atmospheric, emotional and powerful story packed with impressive psychological insight and as fast-moving and murky as the tidal flow in Scotland’s River Forth.
You can almost smell the tang of sea in the air, hear the thrum of traffic on the bridge, see the shadows of the waterfront and feel the unbearable pain of a bereaved mother ready to risk all to save another soul.
Tartan noir with a wise heart.
(Faber, paperback, £12.99)