‘Running private investigator and funeral home businesses means trouble is never far away, and the Skelf women take on their most perplexing, chilling cases yet in book two of this darkly funny, devastatingly tense and addictive new series!‘
– The Big Chill
[ About the Book ]
Haunted by their past, the Skelf women are hoping for a quieter life. But running both a funeral directors’ and a private investigation business means trouble is never far away, and when a car crashes into the open grave at a funeral that matriarch Dorothy is conducting, she can’t help looking into the dead driver’s shadowy life.
While Dorothy uncovers a dark truth at the heart of Edinburgh society, her daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah have their own struggles. Jenny’s ex-husband Craig is making plans that could shatter the Skelf women’s lives, and the increasingly obsessive Hannah has formed a friendship with an elderly professor that is fast turning deadly.
But something even more sinister emerges when a drumming student of Dorothy’s disappears and suspicion falls on her parents. The Skelf women find themselves sucked into an unbearable darkness – but could the real threat be to themselves?
Following three women as they deal with the dead, help the living and find out who they are in the process, The Big Chill follows A Dark Matter, book one in the Skelfs series, which reboots the classic PI novel while asking the big existential questions, all with a big dose of pitch-black humour.
[ My Review ]
The Big Chill by Doug Johnstone was published August 20th with Orenda Books. It is the second book in the Skelf family series, one that is described as ‘fast-paced, darkly funny, yet touching and tender’. I haven’t read the first book in this series but, I have read one of Doug Johnstone’s other novel Breakers, a very insightful and affecting read, so I knew I was in safe hands.
‘Dorothy felt at home surrounded by dead people’
The Skelf family are three generations of women who run a funeral home and a private investigation business from the same premises, which does, on occasion, raise a few eyebrows. Dorothy, now in her 70s, her daughter and grand-daughter, Jenny and Hannah, have all been through a very challenging and disturbing experience. They are looking to move on with their lives as best they can, but the past is never too far behind. Events from A Dark Matter, the first book in this series, are frequently referred to and very well explained throughout the book, so at no time did I struggle to keep up with the story-line. Doug Johnstone skillfully weaves the past into the present, bringing the reader right into the lives of the Skelfs. These women are powerhouses. Their humour has helped them to get through some very, very difficult days but now they will need to draw on all their strength, as the darkness re-emerges once again.
Dorothy is attending a funeral when the unthinkable happens. A car chase enters the graveyard resulting in a very untimely end for the driver being chased by the police. The car crashes into an open grave. Everybody attending the funeral is shook but thankfully with no further injuries. Following the tragedy , Dorothy can’t help but replay the scene in her mind and the face of the driver won’t leave her in peace. He appears to be homeless, but Dorothy is not willing to accept that. He must belong to someone, so Dorothy appoints Jenny to investigate further.
Dorothy really is an enigma. Always a lover of music, she plays the drums, giving lessons to kids. When one of her students doesn’t show up for a class, Dorothy begins her own investigation to find this young girl. There are secrets buried deep and Dorothy is about to uncover something very unsettling indeed.
Hannah is struggling to deal with the fact her father, Craig (and Jenny’s ex-husband) is up on a murder charge ( an event from A Dark Matter but all very well explained). Hannah feels responsible, as it was the murder of a college friend, a young woman. Hannah is in therapy but finds little relief from the shadow that sits on her shoulder. She becomes acquainted with an elderly professor, a man who seems to understand her, but this friendship is doomed from the get-go and Hannah soon finds herself involved in a rather unexpected situation.
In the meantime Jenny is still pained by the past and with a court case looming, Jenny is feeling the pressure. Craig, her ex-husband, although in prison, has plans. He’s not finished with the Skelf women yet. Craig is a man with little conscience and a very malevolent, and dangerous, personality.
In the midst of all the PI business and trying to outsmart Craig, there is a funeral home to be run. The Skelfs are busy but also extremely professional. Their lives are incredibly complicated. The three women make shocking and disturbing discoveries during their three investigations but they handle it all with sensitivity and, most of all, with humour and a big heart.
Doug Johnstone is extremely adept at bringing his readers on location with him. Set in Edinburgh, a city he is well familiar with, his depictions and portrayals of people and place all feel very authentic. The Skelf women have an in-built wit that emanates throughout the book. They are a tough, formidable bunch of women who strongly believe in the bond of family and doing what is right. Dorothy, the matriarch, is a dynamo, not allowing her advancing years encroach on her ability to do her job and keeping the family together through many trials and tribulations. There are some very chilling discoveries made as the trio face some very real danger leaving the reader in no doubt of the threat that follows the Skelfs.
Doug Johnstone has created a wonderfully dark and highly entertaining series with three rather extraordinary and special protagonists. The Big Chill can be read as a standalone but, from the outstanding reviews I have read, I expect you should consider starting from the beginning of the series with A Dark Matter. The Big Chill is a tense, engrossing and oft-times funny tale that draws the reader right in from the opening chapter. What genre this slots into is anyone’s guess as it encompasses so much within it’s fast, short chapters. It’s a thriller, wrapped up in a mystery, wrapped up in a family saga. What you need to know though is that it is an all-round great read and one that I, along with many others, highly recommend!
[ Bio ]
Doug Johnstone is the author of ten novels, most recently Breakers (2019), which was longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. Several of his books have been bestsellers and award winners, and his work has been praised by the likes of Val McDermid, Irvine Welsh and Ian Rankin.
He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions, and has been an arts journalist for twenty years. Doug is a songwriter and musician with five albums and three 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