Hit and Run by Doug Johnstone
One of the best things about being a reviewer is that you occasionally stumble upon books way outside of your usual reading list. Mine is populated by the books I ‘should’ read, rather than those I pick up primarily for pleasure. It’s a list of the wholesome nuts, seeds, fruit
and vegetables of literature rather than the gluttonous carb-loaded, dirty, gut-filling prose I sometimes crave.
Johnstone’s latest offering is a good place to start if you want to take time off from whole foods prose and indulge in something a bit less fortified with vitamins and minerals. Hit and Run is about story, backed up by Johnstone’s deft approach to characterisation and his knowledge of the genre. It does exactly what it says on the tin.
There is nothing pretentious about Hit and Run, it is a simple, no chaff, fast read. Johnstone knew what sort of book he wanted to write and the influences he wanted to channel. He does noir fiction well in this drug, beer and sex-fuelled crime story set on the streets of Edinburgh that brings the devices of the genre into a contemporary psychological novel. You never would have thought an ageing Nissan Micra could be responsible for setting off quite such a train of destruction.
Billy, a rookie crime journo, drives home with his doctor brother Charlie and his fashion-feature writing girlfriend Zoe from a PR-freebie night out. They are high on a cocktail of drugs pilfered from the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and beetroot schnapps. Next thing you know, Billy’s only mown down the city’s most prominent gangster in his deceased mother’s supermini and lumbered the body into Salisbury Crags. The story that follows is about Billy’s unravelling, played out through his involvement in the case as both reporter and instigator and through his messy embroilment with his victim’s widow, heavies and rival gangs. Billy’s an ordinary, honest guy who made a terrible mistake, now Charlie and Zoe think he should keep quiet. The only person who seems to be looking out for him as he spirals into despair is his senior hack, Rose, whose special relationship with the detective inspector in charge of the case means Billy has the inside scoop on exactly which way the investigation is going. Mapping southside Edinburgh away from the main tourist route, any mention of this book on a literary tour of the city will be fleeting. References to Twitter, Facebook, and lots of brands, mean Hit and Run might not have longevity, but in producing pacy fiction Johnstone has hit the mark. Readers will not undergo a metamorphosis or discover the meaning of life by the end of the story but they will race through a good summer read. Stuff happens, which leads to more stuff, and that leads on to even more, at a rocketing pace. And there is a friendly dog with a life-long medical condition, for suitable light relief.
Hit and Run is full of heat – those couple of weeks we get every other year in Scotland when it gets balmy and just being alive weighs on your shoulders. The city is an active antagonist to Billy: menacing, stifling, and a relentless reminder of his actions. It is the busy city in summer that an Edinburgher or visitor will recognise.
This book hits you in the same place as a trip to the cinema to see Jason Statham sweating his way through an action thriller. While too many books of this type would leave a reader hankering for more, in terms of detail and sub-plots, Johnstone’s pared down novel is a reminder that the best novels need no more than a good story with a spot of psychological unravelling. Hit and Run has inspired me to make it a summer of reading outside of my comfort zones. I might even opt for a spot of lad-lit next, just for larks.
Fantastic Mr Fox
Hit and Run
Faber and Faber, rrp £7•99, 272pp