From the PR: “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 must have slept on A Dark Matter which I’m kicking myself for now because not only were the two previous Doug Johnstone novels I read – Breakers and Fault Lines – seriously good, but The Big Chill is a bloody great read.
Admittedly, I was momentarily thrown off when I realised I was reading a ‘sequel’ but The Big Chill works brilliantly enough at covering the retrospective detail needed without either labouring the point or taking away momentum. I still want to get my hands on A Dark Matter though – even if I now know the end I need to know the rest – because the Skelfs make for massively compelling protagonists and Doug Johnstone’s work is always compelling . There’s a warmth and humanity to Johnstone’s Skelf ladies – even, and especially, when surrounded by the coldness of death and some of the most inhuman events – that it’s impossible not to get on the team and they’re so well written and rounded as characters they practically walk off the pages.
Johnstone has a real ability when it comes to painting his locations in a near cinematic style, whether it’s the grim tower blocks of Breakers or a ‘volcanic’ Edinburgh – and that’s certainly true with The Big Chill. When coupled with the vitality of the novel’s cast, this lends a real gritty grounding to the story and keeps you immersed – though if you find this as addictive as I did you’ll only need a couple of sittings.
Picking up six months from the events of Dark Matter a large part of The Big Chill‘s plot follows directly though also takes time to bring in the mystery of first a missing school girl, then that of her father (I did not see that one coming) and the search for a dead homeless man’s identity while touching on human relationships, the nature of grief and, er, quantum mechanics.
I found these subplots – the search for Abi and her father and that of Hugh and his past – particularly engaging. Dorothy’s PI work and style was brilliantly written and paced while Hannah’s investigations and the revelations of Hugh’s life served to remind that you never really know what goes on in other people’s lives – especially those you’d least suspect.
The Big Chill is a both a gripping page turner and a warm, rewarding read. Very much recommended and I look forward to more from the series. My thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy and Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.