Doug Johnstone knows how to hold my interest something fucking fierce. His Smokeheads was one of my favorites of 2011 and you better believe Hit and Run is an early contender for 2012. He knows how to develop strong characters whose lives we can easily relate to then put them into the most nightmarish (yet still horrifyingly recognizable, mind you) situations imaginable, making you feel every sickening decision and fucked up turn of the screw. Smokeheads was about a vacation turning into a life and death struggle against some psychotic natives. With Hit and Run Johnstone gets even more immediate with his premise, and the Nerd burned through the fallout like I have very few books of late.
Shit kicks off with cub crime reporter Billy Blackmore driving home drunk and stone from party late at night with his girlfriend and brother in tow. Mere blocks away from home he hits a pedestrian, the man seemingly dying on impact. Instead of calling the police, the three weigh their options, decide what’s done is done, nothing for it, and go home to their beds, sleep a hell of a long way off. Next morning Billy gets a call from his journalist mentor, saying they’ve caught the hit and run case. Turns out the guy’s not some random joe but Frank Whitehouse, the biggest gangster in all of Edinburgh. If you think that’s where the nastiness ends, dear reader, you’ve never read a book, apparently.
Hit and Run gave me some pretty fucking serious ulcers, dear reader, and I loved every agonizing page of it. Every chapter ups tension masterfully, with the cops and Whitehouse clan getting closer and closer to discovering him, until things really go to shit in the extremely badass finale. Johnstone makes us feel and fear for Billy the whole way, his crushing guilt (Billy’s doctor brother suspects he’s suffering from PTSD), head injuries from the collision, and frequent pill-popping only making Billy more unpredictable while under the stress of covering for the paper a murder he himself committed.
It’s intense stuff, dear reader, and I think a basement noir junkie like yourself will dig the living shit out of it. With his unflinching commitment to taking his twisted premises to their inevitably dark conclusions, his direct prose, eye for middle class details, and his mastery at sustaining tension, Doug Johnstone is quickly becoming one of the Nerd’s favorite authors working. If you’re in decent heart health, I’d advise your ass to pick up Hit and Run toot-fucking-sweet and find out what you’ve been missing.