Doug Johnstone - Tombstoning (4 stars)

Doug Johnstone

Tombstoning (Penguine)


This debut from polymath Doug Johnstone (novelist, journalist, multi-instrumentalist with Fence Collective band Northern Alliance) is a book about returning and reassessing. ‘The past wasn’t a scary place,’ says thirtysomething protagonist David, about going back to his native Arbroath. ‘It was just the past.’ But it was a past he escaped after his best friend disappeared off a cliff there, and one that becomes frightening when he goes back for the first time in 15 years.

Tombstoning is most interesting when exploring what David has done since leaving school, and in the witty, sarcastic dialogue between him and girlfriend Nicola, which lightens the tone even in dark moments. It’s essentially a mystery - and the unfolding plot is perhaps less interesting than the believable, sensitive characters acting it out - but overall this is a thoughtful, attention-grabbing novel that asks important questions about death and the life that comes before it.

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