I am a massive fan of Doug Johnstone’s writing and wait with baited breath for each new release! So I was delighted to receive an ARC of his latest, The Big Chill, the second in the Skelf Family series, from the publisher.
Before I share my thoughts, here’s what the official blurb says:
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!
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.
I don’t think I can ever do Doug Johnstone’s books justice with my reviews. This is a writer who has talent seeping out of his pores and a way with words that I can only dream of! However, I am compelled to share my love of his books, so please be gentle with you as I try to explain my love for his writing.
A Funeral Director/Private Investigator business, now I’ll bet you if anyone pitched you that idea, you would be a little bit perplexed, I mean, how the hell does that work? Well, I still don’t know but I do know that I reckon only Doug Johnstone could come up with an idea like this and make it, not only work, but make it absolutely magical!
It is the second in the series featuring the three Skelf Women, Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah, but you can read it as a standalone but you are missing out on a fabulous background to the women and their lives, so I’d highly recommend picking up the first book A Dark Matter and battering into it before you start this one!
The Big Chill has it all, and really I mean that, it has it all! A cast of multi-layered characters, a perfectly crafted plot and sublime scene setting. Throughout the book there is a beauty and a depth to the narrative wrapped up in a compassionate and through provoking truth as he takes each of his characters and turns them into living, breathing people who step out of the pages and into your life. With death as the obvious theme to the book, you might think it would be maudlin and depressing but Doug Johnstone peppers his work with that famous dark Scottish humour while managing to prod around in your head and make you look at things in a whole new light.
He explores process of death and dying: the things and people we leave behind and our impact on them when we are gone, how we are laid bare after death as our secrets are unearthed: his writing explores death not just as dying but also the death of relationships, death of who you were in the past, death of your youth as you grow older. Doug’s writing really makes you pause and ponder, and for me this series is more than just the plots, the storyline, it goes much deeper than that, it’s like physics and philosophy all rolled into one. Quantum physics are discussed throughout and Doug Johnstone has got to be the only person who has ever made this subject interesting and accessible to me! I reckon if he had been my science teacher at school (even though he is most definitely not old enough to have been that!) I might have actually learned something!
But don’t worry, if you are not looking for something quite as deep then you can read this series and get lost in the storyline and characters as you try to work out whodunit, the plots are extremely clever and the characters completely engaging from the opening scenes with a car crashing into an open grave to Jenny’s ex-husband Craig continuing with his mission to destroy them, this one will definitely satisfy all the armchair detectives.
The Big Chill gives us writing that is emotionally charged; he provides way more than just a plot or a cast of characters, he makes me laugh, cry and ponder all at once, he draws out all the feels with this one. And as a lover of Scottish crime writing, he proves once again that Scotland is filled to the brim with outstanding talent.
The Big Chill is available to purchase from:
About the author:
Doug Johnstone is the author of ten novels, most recently Breakers (2018), 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.
Follow Doug on Twitter @doug_johnstone and visit his website: dougjohnstone.com.