Home Stories Gone Again by Doug Johnstone – A Book Review

Gone Again by Doug Johnstone – A Book Review


Gone Again, written by Doug Johnstone, is an excellent, fast-paced, and undoubtedly gripping thriller. Its harrowing yet moving and intimate story makes it a real page-turner. The author meticulously constructs the plot and shows us how fast an ordinary life can turn into an agony and nothing is ever the same again.

Its beauty and strength lie in its honesty and the portrayal of one family’s grief and trauma rather than an explosive chain of events. Two things that make the book compelling and touching and that will leave an everlasting impression on you are the themes of the strong connection between a father and his son and finding the strength and courage to endure the most dreadful personal hardship.

The book opens with Mark Douglas, a photographer for a local newspaper, taking pictures of a pod of whales stranded in the waters of Edinburgh’s Portobello Beach. As he’s trying to capture the perfect picture that would make the front page, the school principal calls him to break the news:“It’s just to say that no one has come to pick Nathan up from school, that’s all, and we were wondering if there was a problem of some kind.”

We learn that Mark’s wife, Lauren, hasn’t turned up to collect their five-year-old son Nathan from school, so now Mark has to do it. Calm at first, he picks up his son and takes him home.

Yet, as minutes turn to hours, Mark begins to worry about his wife. Questions, such as Where’s she now?, When will she come back? or Why isn’t she answering my phone calls,?  constantly overwhelm him while he’s struggling to satisfy Nathan’s curiosity about his mom’s disappearance. The fact that he and Lauren have a few connections with relatives and friends means that he’s left with only one option – to find her by himself.

And as the story goes on we learn that Mark’s wife has already vanished once before. That was during a bout of postnatal depression which makes him worry even more that her disappearance is connected to the fact that she’s expecting another baby.

The only person Mark can talk to is his mother-in-law, Ruth, but their relationship is pretty complicated. Namely, Lauren was sexually abused in her childhood by her father and when she reveals this to her mom, she accuses her of making things up and tells her that she must have brought that upon herself. Hearing that, Mark slaps Ruth and from that moment both Lauren and Mark break their relationship with her.

So, as nothing changes, Mark begins to feel she’s in danger and as the police don’t appear that concerned although they eventually start investigating the case, he decides to take things into his own hands. He can’t believe what he finds… and I’m sure you won’t believe it either.

The strong connection between a father and his son.

Mark and his son get closer and connect on a deeper level in Lauren’s absence. Mark tries to take care of him the best he can. And the fact that Nathan is one kind, sensible, and smart kid makes it a lot easier for Mark to take care of him.

And it’s not that Mark never shows any signs of impatience with his son, but considering how confused, worried, and desperate he feels due to his wife’s disappearance, he still manages to be a great dad. Even at one point when he loses his temper and slaps Nathan, it doesn’t take him long before he starts crying like a child and feeling remorse.

He tries to stay normal and ensure that Nathan doesn’t miss anything. So, he engages in communication with him about Star Wars and leaves a two-pound coin under Nathan’s pillow twice when he loses a tooth because he knows that makes him happy.

They understand each other without telling a word: “It had only been a day and Mark hadn’t told him anything. But the boy knew something. The same way Mark knew everything about Nathan, it worked both ways.”

There’re many situations in which Mark and Nathan can read each other’s minds, like when they play rock-paper-scissors, Mark knows what move his son is going to make next. “How could two people be so close? How could they have so much knowledge of each other?”

Mark is a doting, considerate, and patient father who is willing to go through all pain and suffering to protect his son. And when it comes to Nathan, he’s a lovely and well-mannered boy and how he copes with everything he and his father are going through is what will definitely take you by surprise. Oftentimes, he acts as if he’s a strong and brave adult rather than just a 5-year-old kid.

Mark himself is amazed by his boy’s resilience. He’s amazed at Nathan’s ability to endure whatever the world throws at him, not allowing it to break him. Whereas “he felt brittle in contrast, like an ancient tomb ready to crumble into dust at the slightest touch.”

One thing that can’t pass unnoticed in the book is that Nathan, too, is willing to do anything to protect his dad. When intruders enter their home and are about to kill Mark, Nathan shoots one of them because the love he feels for his father is stronger than any fear and pain in the world.

One more characteristic both father and son share is their unwavering hope. They never give up and support and comfort each other throughout all the difficulties. They’re also not afraid or ashamed to show their feelings openly in front of each other, be that happiness or sorrow. And the fact that Mark has sometimes no other choice but to treat his son like he’s an adult and talk to him about things that no kid should ever hear, let alone deal with, capture what being a parent is all about.

Finding the strength and courage to endure the most dreadful personal hardship.

In Mark Douglas, Johnstone has created a man who is real and resilient. Mark undergoes a set of difficult trials including the disappearance of his wife, rapprochement with his mother-in-law, witnessing his son shooting an intruder in their home, and dealing with the police that is suspicious of him.

There are moments when Mark is impatient, angry, and has fits of jealousy during his search for Lauren but this is completely understandable, considering the circumstances. He’s desperately trying to find his missing wife and has no one to help him.

It was easier to be angry than sad. Wallowing in grief was what teenagers did.”  Mark is aware of this and does not let his sadness, fear, or anger affect the way he treats his son. He must act responsibly because he owes that to Nathan. His son, the light of his life, deserves the best.

We also learn that Mark didn’t get on well with his dad when he was younger. The birth of his son has made him realize how much he had taken his dad for granted, even worse because he was dead. He’s realized that his moody behavior and teenage stuff he did must have insulted and made sad his dad. So, it turns out that life has had a lot of challenges and fights in store for Mark to endure. But the most important fight he has to go through is to protect and keep his family together.

There are moments when Mark blames himself for what he and his son are going through although this is not true. How bad he feels can be seen in one dream he has in which he, Lauren, Nathan, and a pod of whales are swimming and as waves push him on to the beach, he tries to tell them not to follow him on to land where they’ll get stranded, but he can’t speak. So, “they nudged on in his wake, trusting him to look after them as he betrayed them and led them to their deaths on the sand.”

This compelling and touching story and the way the author weaves it into your head is definitely something that will hold your attention until the end.