‘A faked death, an obsessive stalker, an old man claiming he’s being abused by the ghost of his late wife, and a devastating spectre from the past. The Skelfs are back in another explosive thriller, and this time things are more than personal…‘
– Black Hearts
[ About the Book ]
Death is just the beginning…
The Skelf women live in the shadow of death every day, running the family funeral directors and private investigator business in Edinburgh. But now their own grief interwines with that of their clients, as they are left reeling by shocking past events.
A fist-fight by an open grave leads Dorothy to investigate the possibility of a faked death, while a young woman’s obsession with Hannah threatens her relationship with Indy and puts them both in mortal danger. An elderly man claims he’s being abused by the ghost of his late wife, while ghosts of another kind come back to haunt Jenny from the grave … pushing her to breaking point.
As the Skelfs struggle with increasingly unnerving cases and chilling danger lurks close to home, it becomes clear that grief, in all its forms, can be deadly…
[ My Review ]
Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone publishes September 29th with Orenda Books and is described as ‘warmly funny, nail-bitingly tense and deliciously dark.’
Black Hearts is the fourth book in this series featuring the Skelfs, following on from A Dark Matter, The Big Chill and The Great Silence.
Dorothy, Jenny, and Hannah – mother, daughter, and grand-daughter – share a surname, Skelf, a name synonymous with death and grief across Edinburgh. They are very well-established funeral directors with roots dating back years. They are now also private investigators. Dorothy, in her seventies, holds the family together through difficult times with her steadfast approach and her conviction in what she does. Dorothy carries a lot of respect for the role that is required of them, so even when things get awkward or challenging, she puts her professional face to the fore every single time.
Hannah, now married to Indy, lives away from the family but is drawn back daily. Indy works as a funeral director there and Hannah helps out with the investigations when her college schedule permits. As a family the Skelfs are very closely knit, yet Dorothy is all too aware that Jenny and Hannah need space to be the person they hope to be. Jenny’s husband, and Hannah’s Dad, Craig has been a constant source of terror in their lives in recent years. Now though, due to recent events, they are hopeful that this part of their lives can finally be put behind them.
Jenny drinks too much and is generally dissatisfied with life, finding solace where she can. She is bitter toward the cards dealt her in life and is angry, always angry. Dorothy worries for her, like any mother would, but ensures they are kept busy at all times with the business of funeral directing and investigating.
When Dorothy is at a local funeral a fist fight breaks out causing undue stress for the parties involved. Later on that day, at the afters of the funeral, Dorothy is approached to take on a case of a missing person. She accepts with slight trepidation not realising the hornets’ nest she is about to fall into.
Meanwhile Hannah is facing the real possibility of a stalker, as a young woman becomes obsessed with her every move. Initially Indy is sceptical and begins to question their relationship and marriage, but as the situation escalates and things take a very strange turn, Hannah and Indy realise that there is something very disturbing at play.
Dorothy is always one to help and support her clients so when she is approached by an elderly gentleman making some bizarre statements about his dead wife, Dorothy intervenes in her amicable and empathetic way looking into every possible reason behind his strange accusation. What transpires is tragic and very affecting, with Dorothy’s gentle approach providing the perfect antidote to the final result.
Jenny’s behaviour is quite erratic in Black Hearts. Her mind is not at work or at home and she dwells very heavily on her past and her relationship with Hannah. Jenny thinks she has fallen short as a mother and is very hard on herself, slow to accept help, constantly punishing herself for what she considers to be her failings. Her relationship with her ex Craig has left scars that run deep. She is emotionally fraught and always in a heightened state of anxiety.
Dorothy, Jenny, and Hannah are a feisty trio who have survived very dangerous and life-threatening situations over the years. They are tough women with an ingrained grit and a will to push forward. Their loyalty to each other is paramount, with Dorothy enveloping them with her love but also consciously aware that strings have to be loosened. Fantastic characters all, the Skelfs are like family to many readers at this point. We have been part of their lives. We have experienced their fear, we have witnessed their tragedies, we have felt their pain. These are hardened women, but also they have a very personable side that allows them to carry out their business in such a professional, yet humane, fashion.
Black Hearts is another stonker of a read from Doug Johnstone. His writing captures wonderfully the crackle of a frayed temper, the atmosphere that surrounds death, the pain of grief and, of course, the city of Edinburgh. The Skelfs are a brilliant concept and having a bunch of kick-ass women leading the charge is very refreshing and an absolute delight to return to. Accessible to all, this series is emotional, insightful and punchy, offering the reader a highly enjoyable experience, with the added bonus of Scottish dark sense of humour thrown into the mix.
[ Bio ]
Doug Johnstone is the author of twelve previous novels, most recently The Great Silence, described as ‘a novel [that] underlines just how accomplished Johnstone has become.’ He has been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year three times and the Capital Crime Best Independent Voice once; The Big Chill was longlisted for Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year.
He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions and has been an arts journalist for over twenty years.
Doug is a songwriter and musician with five albums and three solo EPs released, and he plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also player-manager of the Scotland Writers Football Club. He lives in Edinburgh.
Twitter – @doug_johnstone
Website – dougjohnstone.com.