A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone Orenda Books January 23rd 2020
Three generations of women from the Skelfs family take over the family funeral-home and PI businesses in the first book of a taut, page-turning and darkly funny new series.
Meet the Skelfs: well-known Edinburgh family, proprietors of a long-established funeral-home business, and private investigators… When patriarch Jim dies, it’s left to his wife Dorothy, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah to take charge of both businesses, kicking off an unexpected series of events.
Dorothy discovers mysterious payments to another woman, suggesting that Jim wasn’t the husband she thought he was. Hannah’s best friend Mel has vanished from university, and the simple adultery case that Jenny takes on leads to something stranger and far darker than any of them could have imagined.
As the women struggle to come to terms with their grief, and the demands of the business threaten to overwhelm them, secrets from the past emerge, which change everything…
A compelling, tense and shocking thriller and a darkly funny and warm portrait of a family in turmoil, A Dark Matter introduces a cast of unforgettable characters, marking the start of an addictive new series.
I loved Dark Matter, I mean what’s not to like about a crime novel with it’s base in a funeral directors. It was a funeral directors with a difference, it’s own private detective agency tagged on. And if that wasn’t enough the first page had you wondering if the crime had already been committed.
Then Johnstone gave us the three Skelf women, Dorothy the the matriarch , her daughter, Jenny and Jenny’s daughter Hannah. All struggled with the grief of losing Jim, husband, Father, Grandfather, and Johnstone used their grief to great effect, as they immersed themselves in their own little investigations.
I loved how Johnstone did this, a brilliant tool that gave us a first glimpse into their differing characters. Dorothy, American, wistful for her Californian home, who questioned her husband, was he the man she thought he was or someone else.
Jenny, out of work, divorced, and lost, drifting, not sure what was next. Hannah, her daughter, student, navigating her grief and the disappearance of her best friend Mel.
The investigations were diverse, not necessarily out of the ordinary, but they didn’t need to be. They helped Johnstone set the scene, to showcase the women, their varied working methods and their shared determination and tenaciousness to find the answers even if that meant questioning themselves and finding their own path through the grief.
Johnstone never let up, always something happening, another twist or turn, that had you second guessing what was to come.
His narrative was a blur of emotions, of the strength and power of women, of in my opinion their kick ass attitude particularly in Dorothy. Who else could dream up a grandma, a Californian who loves to destress by hitting the hell out of a drum kit and being really good at it!!
Johnstone’s portrait of Edinburgh was fantastic, from the historic sights of Arthur’s Seat and the castle, to the bars and streets of a vibrant city.
His scene setting was brilliant, who else could make embalming, and dressing a dead body so interesting. Graveyards in the dead of night gave you the chills, the eeriness emanating from Johnstone’s descriptive imagery. There was one scene in particular that had me cringing, my toes curling, the images conjured up horrifying, and not something I will forget in a hurry!
I loved that Johnstone gave me a macabre fascination for the workings of a funeral director, no matter how grim his descriptions!
More than anything A Dark Matter gave us a tantalising flavour of three wonderful women, whose lives you wanted to immerse yourself in. Johnstone left you wondering what other investigations and adventures he had awaiting for them in the future, and you were left with an unerring sense of impatience, that you wanted the next instalment right now, not later but now!!
I would like to thank Orenda Books for a copy of A Dark Matter to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
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.