It's nice when books are set in a neighbourhood you recognise.

Former nuclear physicist Doug Johnstone, the author of Smokeheads and Tombstoning, has set his thriller in Edinburgh's south side, an area of grass roots cafes, vintage shops and grimy pubs turned into charming hangouts. His main character, Billy Blackmore, lives on Rankeillor Street, opposite St Leonard's Police Station so central to Ian Rankin's Rebus books. Nicknamed Hotshot, Billy is a new reporter for the Evening Standard. And it is his own karmic retribution that he must follow the story of a car accident he caused himself.

One late July evening, Billy cruises homeward in the darkness of Holyrood Park with his girlfriend Zoe and his brother Charlie. High on drugs, Billy slams the red Micra into a passing figure. Horrified, the trio drag the body off the road and speed away. The next day Billy's boss tells him that Edinburgh's most potent crime lord, Frank Whitehouse, was found at the bottom of Salisbury Crags.

To turn himself in or further his career is Billy's dilemma. His guilt, a common quandary in Scottish literature, manifests itself in thumping headaches and fainting spells. Billy further complicates matters by bedding the gangster's widow.

The winding road of Pleasance, the bulk of Arthur's Seat and the reflective panels of the Scottish Widows building become landmarks around which Billy wanders, pressing the bump on his head.

A mood of gloomy trepidation and a tense, efficient style characterise this thriller. Dialogue is sparse and occasionally cliched, like that from a TV programme.

Each day the police give the reporters new details of the crash, much to Billy's deepening shame. As Johnstone makes clear, it's not the dead crime lord who is the victim, but Billy. Troubled by the death of his mother and a sense of duty to his family, he is the only one who wants to come clean. Yet for his sins, he is forced to chase an imaginary villain. Billy is not strong enough to live duplicitously; he cannot be both culprit and investigator for much longer.

There is no whodunit so the reader's interest stems from seeing how long Billy can hold out. And since Johnstone favours plot twists rather than psychological exploration, some of the potential for rich pathos goes untouched. But the novel's opening crash scene will draw most readers in. Johnstone gets that moment of dread and misfortune just right.