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Fault Lines

by Doug Johnstone

Shorter Reads Thriller and Suspense eBooks of the Month

LoveReading Expert Review of Fault Lines

Brilliantly constructed speculative crime fiction A classic whodunit Dark psychological suspense Doug Johnstone returns with his most explosive and original thriller yet...

Short, sharp, punchy. As a reimagined Edinburgh sits with a volcano on the doorstep, volcanologist Surtsey discovers the very dead body of her lover, and a split-second decision turns her entire world upside down. Doug Johnstone sets the pace from the very beginning, fast moving chapters kept my thoughts whirring. Surtsey is a fascinating character, living her life in the moment, her actions reverberated across the surface of the pages. I could feel her shock, her confusion, yet she didn’t allow me close enough to form a bond, consequently I found myself evaluating, sifting, perhaps even judging. It feels as though a reckoning is thundering towards Surtsey, and I sat waiting, expectantly tense, ready to view the outcome. ‘Fault Lines’ cranks up the volume on original, yet feels intensely raw, earthy, and real, for a short book, it packs a mighty wallop. 

Liz Robinson

Fault Lines Synopsis

A little lie ... a seismic secret ... and the cracks are beginning to show... In a reimagined contemporary Edinburgh, in which a tectonic fault has opened up to produce a new volcano in the Firth of Forth, and where tremors are an everyday occurrence, volcanologist Surtsey makes a shocking discovery. On a clandestine trip to The Inch - the new volcanic island - to meet Tom, her lover and her boss, she finds his lifeless body, and makes the fatal decision to keep their affair, and her discovery of his corpse secret. Desperate to know how he died, but also terrified she'll be exposed, Surtsey's life quickly spirals into a nightmare when someone makes contact - someone who claims to know what she's done...

About This Edition

ISBN: 9781912374151
Publication date: 22nd May 2018
Author: Doug Johnstone
Publisher: Orenda Books
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 300 pages
Primary Genre Thriller and Suspense
Other Genres:
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Closing date: 30/09/2021

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What To Read After Fault Lines

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The New Collected Short Stories
One Last Dram Before Midnight
No Middle Name: Jack Reacher Story Collection The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Stories

Fault Lines Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

Fault lines is a great murder mystery that has you page turning from the start. A classic who done it with intrigue, love and an unknown motive. Great read!

Fault Lines is a great read that has you hooked from the first few pages.
The main character Surtsey is a volcanologist working on an amazing Island called the Inch but she has fallen for a married colleague and an incident on the Inch causes a series of lies and traumas that almost end it all for Surtsey.
I love crime dramas and was impressed with the way that Doug Johnstone weaved the personal family drama of Surtsey with a shocking incident that casts her morality in doubt.
I managed (by luck) to guess the answer to the mystery mid way through the story but it didn't stop my enjoyment of the book.

Ian Watkin

Fault Lines is a gripping novel with secrets as dark as the black volcanic sand and rock of The Inch itself.

Set in an alternative Edinburgh where a volcanic island has sprung up in the Firth of Forth, we meet Surtsey, a volcanologist, whose life is about to implode in ways she could never have imagined.

She sets out on her boat to secretly meet her lover, Tom, a married professor. But when she gets to the island of The Inch, their usual meeting spot, hidden from prying eyes, she discovers his body, his head caved in, being eaten by birds.

Panic setting in, she rows herself back to the mainland and tells no one what she saw.

But someone saw her.

“I know you were there”, said the text message. 

Like a message from the island itself. More texts arrive.

Soon her secret is out, and she’s suspected of murder.

Events begin to spiral, and the tension builds as the tremors from the fault line grow stronger and stronger, until the inevitable explosive plot climax.

Surtsey is such a well-written and well-rounded character, that I’d’ve been rooting for her no matter what. She’s sassy, smart, but also vulnerable and sensitive, which is no more evident than in her relationship with her dying mother.

It’s a true thriller, with such cinematic descriptions of people, places and events, that it’s crying out for a tv or film adaptation.

This is the first of Doug Johnstone’s novels I’ve read, and it won’t be the last!


Gwen McGinty

A rich dark emotional thriller with so many twists and turns that will keep you guessing right to the end.

Fault Lines is a well constructed psychological thriller that I couldn't put down and kept me guessing right to the end.

The story opens with a young volcanologist called Surtsey travelling to a new volcanic island in the Firth of Forth to meet Tom, her boss and much older married lover with whom she had been having a clandestine affair for several months. Instead she finds his murdered body and makes the decision to keep her discovery and their affair a secret. She finds and pockets his phone that was only used for calls between them. However she is horrified to receive a text on this phone from someone who claims to know she was there on the island. After the body is discovered, she and the rest of the team are interviewed by the police and this is the start of lies to protect her secret. It all starts unravelling when an email is sent to her, the team, Tom's wife and the police with photographic evidence attached of their affair. This is the start of a nightmare which quickly spirals out of control.There are many twists and turns as the story unfolds and the ending is totally unexpected. A thoroughly well written and enjoyable whodunit.

Patricia Dewey

Fault Line had me on the promise of volcanic eruptions, murder mystery, reimagined Edinburgh and university setting.

The premise certainly sounds thrilling and exciting, and promises a fast-paced story with twists and turns. Sadly, that's all the excitement and thrill the story had.

The story had unrealistic representation of university students, as everyone was described as having one-night stands, drinking extensively and getting stoned almost on a daily basis. No one seemed to focus on their research, which was hard to believe when it's PhD level students. Surtsey was an epitome of this type of behaviour and she didn’t have any redeeming qualities, mostly because she didn't seem to care about anyone but herself. Her married lover died? She only worried that their affair would be discovered and she'd lose her boyfriend. And it just went on and on. Her sister, mother, and friends weren't any different, and the police were bad stereotypes without personality. 

Plot was predictable and I guessed the killer when they were introduced to the story, and that killed the mystery the story had going. The best part was the volcanic island and all the geological stuff, which was interesting. Short chapters also kept the pace fast and the writing was good.

Fault Lines is a fast paced read, but it's not thrilling and the extremely unlikable characters makes it hard to connect with anyone. Premise and setting in a reimagined Edinburgh sounded intriguing and captivating, but unfortunately the story didn't live up to it. 


Henna Rinne

A compelling thriller with a brooding sense of unease throughout which features a familiar yet different Scotland - a Scotland where volcanic activity has created a new island in the Firth of Forth.

There's a sense of something nightmarish simmering beneath the surface just waiting to erupt, and with each terrible discovery, the countdown to an explosion of some sort comes closer. I almost turned the pages with trepidation, the atmosphere building as the yet unknown murderer follows volcanologist Surtsey’s every move. The feeling of being watched from a distance adds a disturbing but enthralling aspect and everyone seems to be desperately trying to keep their secrets hidden beneath a veil of lies. 

Beneath the veneer of everyday life, Surtsey struggles to cope with the terminal illness of her mother, juggling a secret lover and a boyfriend who imagines that he is at the centre of her life. Like the cancer eating away at her mother, the poison of her deceptions eats away at Surtsey’s sanity, fragmenting relationships with her sister, friends and her boyfriend Brendan. 

Just when I was congratulating myself at working out who the killer was, another turn of the page and twist in the plot surprised me and kept me guessing right up to the end.

A superb and highly recommended read.

Jennifer Stewart

A fast paced, short thriller book with a complex and not always likeable main character. Doug Johnstone keep the reader engaged with his characters and landscapes throughout.

I found this an easy read, with short fast moving chapters I sped through it. It follows Surtsey a young volcanologist (named after an Icelandic island created by a volcano and loved by her volcanologist mother) and her life running parallel to another volcanic island The Inch. The descriptions of Scotland and the new/fictional fault line give depth to the book and a brilliant metaphor as Surtsey's life becomes increasingly explosive. Surtsey is having an affair with her married colleague/boss Tom, she's keen to keep this secret and so when she discovered his body on the inch she doesn't report it instead she's drawn into an increasing web of lies and deceit. 


Secrets and lies!

A thriller that really lives up to the name. Twists and turns everywhere. Literally could not put it down, read in one sitting.
Surtsey finds her lover's dead body and decides to tell no-one. She believes no-one knows of their affair - how wrong she was. Anyone who is close to her is in danger as she is herself.
All based around a volcanic island, her life seems volcanic at times!
A gripping read, the best thriller I have read in a long time. Thoroughly recommended.

Margaret Quirke

Volcanic eruptions in the Firth of Forth, a dead body, a heroine who swears, drinks and tells lies. Lots of them. Until they catch up with her.

Volcanic eruptions or timorous tremors? 

A thriller which actually didn’t thrill me. I liked the premise of earthquakes shaking Edinburgh and new island The Inch thrusting itself above the waves of the Firth of Forth. I liked the body found on the rock with its head stoved in. After that, I liked very little.

Heroine Surtsey drinks too much, takes weed indiscriminately, has few morals and her language leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, her sister and friends display the same failings. Is this really how young people are today? I know people in Scotland swear a lot, but is this a true depiction? Surely you can write strong women characters without a language warning on the cover?

Th plot was predictable. The police were stereotypes, seemingly not noticing the smell of weed which was all invasive in Surtsey’s home. Her own reaction to the death of her married lover never allows the reader to believe that she had any feelings for him other the excitement of having an affair with an older man. When her boyfriend finds out, she displays very little remorse.

The book does race along, short chapters and good, concise writing. It is a shame that the author’s obvious talents left me cold, feeling little empathy with any of the characters and not liking any of them. Not one that will stay with me.

Belle Woodward

Set in an alternate Edinburgh but one we can all recognise, this is a wonderfully descriptive and well written suspense novel.

Set in an alternate Edinburgh but one we can all recognise, this is a wonderfully descriptive and well written suspense novel. Volcanology PhD student Surtsey finds herself embroiled in a mystery that could have serious consequences in her already complicated life. Trying to keep secrets makes things worse and the events that follow are tense, thrilling and unexpected. I liked Surtsey and wanted her to come clean but could see why she didn’t. The reality of her life and her thought processes were teased out perfectly. The characters around her were as well rounded and thoughtfully portrayed . I did not see the twist coming as Doug Johnstone so skillfully constructed his story. He made it seem effortless. I really enjoyed it. 

I was given this ARC from in return for an honest review. 


Karen McIntosh

I just felt that there were too many 'that's not right' moments in the plotting.

The first chapters were the best, laying the basis of the plot which early on in the novel was believable.

After that though I found the whole story took on an unbelievable turn.The character of Donna to me was really sketchy... I felt that as the planner of the murders she was not wholly credible.

Just how did she know that Tom was to be on Inch Island at the very beginning of the book? Did she have a tracker on their phones/computers? Had she access to their texts?

I just felt that there were too many 'that's not right' moments in the plotting.

The final chapters seemed to me to resemble the movie 'Misery' crossed with 'I Know what you did last Summer' and I was disappointed overall in this novel.

I must apologise for this negative review but I am asked to offer up my opinion and this should be an honest one.

Siobhan McDowell

Has great potential but I just couldn't bring myself to care about any of the characters so was difficult to keep reading. Very good writing, just disappointing characters.

I had really high hopes for this book, it has a really interesting premise and I was quite excited to read it.  Unfortunately after the first couple of chapters I struggled with it.  None of the characters were very likeable, especially not Surtsey, which considering she was the main focus of the book made it even more difficult to force my way through to the end.  For me likeable characters, or at least characters I care about in some way, is incredibly important as to whether I enjoy the book or not.  If I don’t really care what happens to the characters I tend to just roll my eyes and think they deserve whatever is happening and I’m not really bothered with how it turns out.  This was really disappointing; especially as the writing itself was brilliant.  Doug Johnstone has a great way of describing the surroundings and what is happening by giving just enough detail and not going over the top.  I would definitely read one of his books again; hopefully I can find one with more likeable characters.


Rebecca Kirkby

Had to keep reminding myself that this was ‘re-imagined’ contemporary Edinburgh such was the credibility of both the style of narrative and it’s delivery. Brilliant thriller.

Surtsey is a PhD student at Edinburgh University.  She is also having an affair with married man, father and the Head of Dept, Tom.  The affair is kept secret to such an extent that even her sister, Iona and her very close friend, Halima know nothing

They makes plans to meet using dedicated phones and in remote locations, notably on Inch which is home to the research station used to monitor the new volcano that erupts daily and is located in the Forth of Firth. 

Only when Surtsey arrives on Inch at the time agreed for their ‘picnic’ she finds Tom but so have the seagulls who are enjoying (Johnstone is not shy of being very descriptive at times) a feast on his dead body.

Not knowing what to do, Surtsey panics and leaves the island taking the only item that could link her to Tom – his phone.  And then she starts receiving mysterious text messages that indicate that her affair was known by someone – is it the someone that has triggered the police investigation into Tom’s death?

The turbulence of Surtsey situation is cleverly enhanced by the earthquakes whose strength gets ever stronger and has increasing impact on the stability of the City and its environment.

Intense and edge of your seat reading and so credible.

Phylippa Smithson

Doug Johnstone Press Reviews

'An unnerving tale of what happens to ordinary lives when the wheels come off.' - Val McDermid on The Jump

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9781912374151
Publication date: 22/05/2018
Format: Paperback

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About Doug Johnstone

Doug Johnstone is the author of four novels, most recently Hit & Run, acclaimed by Ian Rankin as 'a great slice of noir' and by Irvine Welsh as 'a grisly parable for our times'. He is also a freelance journalist, a songwriter and musician, and has a PhD in nuclear physics. He lives in Edinburgh.   Author photo © Chris Scott  

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