Book review: Gone Again by Doug Johnstone

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WHEN Mark Douglas’s wife Lauren goes missing, the police tell him that, like most missing people, she’ll turn up soon enough.

Gone Again by Doug Johnstone

Faber, £12.99

Mark knows too that this isn’t the first time she’s disappeared. Post-natal depression after the birth of their son Nathan saw her taking off for days, and she’s pregnant again, so it just seems logical that she’s taken off again.

Taking place over the course of a week that changes one family’s life beyond measure, the first half of Doug Johnstone’s pacey thriller addresses the day-to-day living of life against the backdrop of deep worry, then tragedy. Nathan still has to go to school. He still has to be fed and cuddled. But Lauren’s still not home and it’s getting increasingly hard to convince Nathan that she’s away for work.

Set against the backdrop of a bleak, windy Portobello, the book’s strength lies in its portrayal of the minutiae of life while grief unfolds around it. The cruel fact that the world keeps turning even in the face of personal tragedy is highlighted by the steady presence of a pod of pilot whales, stranded just off Portobello beach.

They’re the big story of the week; indeed in his work as a photo journalist, Mark is taking pictures of them when he first finds out that his wife is missing. The book does build to a rather hammy conclusion with rather more gunshot wounds than you’d expect in Portobello, but there’s a heartbreaking sweetness to the relationship at its core; the one between Mark and Nathan.

In many ways this is the story of a father’s love. Mark is flawed, he’s angry and he has a chip on his shoulder. His life isn’t entirely happy, before or after Lauren goes missing. His handling of her disappearance is often questionable and his decision to take matters into his own hands when he believes the police are looking for answers in the wrong places has consequences as messy and as exciting as you’d expect.

It’s his slightly flawed approach, however, that gets results and keeps the plot ticking along, even if things do build to a less than subtle climax.