Friday 10 January 2020

BLOG TOUR: A Dark Matter (The Skelfs) - Doug Johnstone

After an unexpected death, three generations of women take over the family funeral-home and PI businesses in the first book of a brilliant, page-turning and darkly funny new series.

The Skelfs are a 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 women, 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… It’s a compelling and tense thriller and a darkly funny, warm portrait of a family in turmoil. 

What did I think?

I saw Doug Johnstone on a Newcastle Noir 2019 panel and he absolutely had me in stitches with his amazing sense of humour, so I promptly added him to my 'authors I must read' list.  Although A Dark Matter is his eleventh novel, it is the first of his books I have read and most definitely will not be my last. 

I knew from the very first line that I was going to love this book; it immediately sent my mind off in the wrong direction and there is so much more of that to come.  I love that Jim Skelf wasn't just a funeral director, he was also a private investigator.  With two very different business in one, there is no end to the intrigue, mystery and emotion-fuelled drama.  Jim's death (this isn't a spoiler, it's in the blurb) sees the businesses left in the hands of his wife, Dorothy, helped by daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah.  All three are grieving Jim's loss but they are kept busy by intriguing new investigative cases and one old mystery.

Usually it would be high praise indeed to say that I couldn't put this book down, but I have gone one better with A Dark Matter.  I actually kept putting it down to tell anyone who was around how brilliant it was (I mean friends and family, not random commuters on public transport, although I'm sure I would have still done so if I had been reading it on the metro).  I only lifted my eyes from the page for a few seconds though, before being compelled to continue the story and what an amazing story it is.

What is exceptional about A Dark Matter is that it is so busy without being complicated; there's not just one case to investigate but at least three going on simultaneously and that's without the funerals that need to be carried out at the same time.  The three main characters are incredibly strong females, each carrying their own burden.  They are all brilliantly written, and I think Doug Johnstone absolutely nailed it when a now grown-up child (Jenny) returns to the family home; they do say you revert to a child again when you go back to live with your parents and Jenny certainly seemed to be reliving her rebellious youth.

Perfectly plotted and perfectly titled, A Dark Matter is such a darkly addictive read.  I am absolutely thrilled that this is the start of a new series, as I couldn't get enough of the Skelfs and didn't want it to end.  I'm going to pin my colours to the mast and say that even though it's only early January, I very much doubt that I will read a better book this year.  A Dark Matter is without doubt a 5+ star book and one that I unreservedly recommend.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

About the author:

Doug Johnstone is the author of ten novels, most recently Breakers (2018), which has been shortlisted 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 – including a funeral home – 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 playermanager of the Scotland Writers Football Club. He lives in Edinburgh. 

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