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Johnstone, Doug - 'Smokeheads'
Hardback: 304 pages (Mar. 2011) Publisher: Faber and Faber ISBN: 0571260621

This is a brilliant and disturbing tale that is perfect for people who love the blacker side of crime fiction. It starts off innocently enough, with four friends going away together for a lads weekend, but soon the nightmares start and just when you think it can't get any worse, it does.

Four friends, Roddy, Adam, Luke and Ethan, who met at university far too long ago and have been pals ever since - bonded by a shared love of whisky drinking - go to Islay to tour the distilleries and generally misbehave for a few days. Things go well at first: they manage to find their accommodation, check in and go down to the local for a drink, but then they get pulled over for speeding and meet a very unpleasant policeman who seems every bit as drunk as they are. Adam, a somewhat unsure and awkward character, has crazy plans to better himself, as well as an eye for Molly, one of the local ladies. The lads meet up with Molly and her sister for a few drinks but things take a downward lurch when it turns out that the not-so-friendly policeman from earlier is Molly's ex-husband. An angry shouting match soon turns into a fight and they are firmly chucked out of the bar. The following day, Adam reveals his big plan to his friends and asks Roddy, who has more money than sense, to help fund it. The ensuing argument rapidly leads to a series of tragic events that will change the course of their lives forever.

SMOKEHEADS, the name for non-islanders that love to drink the Islay malts, is a well-written, whisky-fuelled nightmare. Johnstone leads you into it gently enough, then swiftly bashes you over the head with a sherry cask and runs off, leaving you with the peaty memory of a fine Ardbeg on your lips but wondering what on earth has happened and how it could all have gone so horribly wrong. Settle yourself down with this book one evening and you are in for a real malt-soaked treat.

Amanda C M Gillies, Scotland
April 2011

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 5/05/2012 14:41