Doug Johnstone’s Hit & Run begins when Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord, Frank Whitehouse, is run over in the early hours by a group of drug-fuelled twenty-somethings. They scramble about in a daze and end up dumping the body in long grass by the roadside, looking to save their reputations and careers. Billy, the driver of the car and responsible, arrives at his job as a crime reporter the next day on a bleary comedown to be told he’s covering the case, which at this point is a suspected suicide. The storyline snowballs as Billy attempts to mask the truth of the case with prescription drugs, alcohol, and a rather complicated sexual relationship with Whitehouse’s widow. What ensues is a drug-infused murder mystery as we follow Billy around the landmarks of the city while his boss, the newspaper he works for, members of a rival crime gang and members of the general public are all sniffing around, trying to solve the murder that he accidentally committed.
The novel is permeated by a wonderful sense of living outside of normality, looking out as if from a fish tank on the happy hordes of people who go about their daily lives free of something terminal, be it guilt or illness. The idea of sickness within the novel is palpable. Synthetic sickness is used to mask moral sickness – ‘drug soaked sleeps’ abound – while Billy’s body is literally falling apart due to the trauma he received at the site of the crash, as he suffers recurring pain that is his guilt manifest.
The novel inescapably screeches toward the muddiest, dirtiest, most painful ending Johnstone could manage. With every bend of the storyline you think that Billy’s suffering can’t get much worse. Add to this the excruciating pace of the novel and it is brilliantly cringe-worthy; every time an issue looks as though it is going to be resolved or a situation tied up neatly, everything undoes all over again. The storyline would be guilty-pleasure territory if the writing wasn’t handled with such capability. Doug Johnstone makes writing a psychological thriller look as easy as having a bath; the book is absolutely addictive.