A Dark Matter – Doug Johnstone (The Skelfs #1)

Three generations of women from the Skelfs family take over the family funeral home and PI businesses in the first book of a taut, gripping 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.

Book Info: Print length: 300 pages. Publisher: Orenda Books. Publication Date: 23 Jan 2020

Doug Johnstone is the author of thirteen novels, most recently The Great Silence (2021). His previous book, The Big Chill (2020), was longlisted for the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year. Several of his books have been bestsellers and three, A Dark Matter (2020), Breakers (2019) and The Jump (2015), were shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions over the last two decades including festivals, libraries, universities, schools, prisons and a funeral directors.

Doug is a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow and works as a mentor and manuscript assessor for many organisations, including The Literary Consultancy, Scottish Book Trust and New Writing North. He’s been an arts journalist for over twenty years and has also written many short stories and screenplays. He is a songwriter and musician with six albums and three EPs released, and plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also co-founder of the Scotland Writers Football Club.

My Review:

A Dark Matter is the first in a series which was published in Nov 2019 and has been sitting patiently on my kindle since Nov 2019 and despite seeing rave reviews and hearing only wonderful praise about this series it’s taken me over 2 years to finally start the series.

Set in Edinburgh, A Dark Matter centres around the Skelf family and opens with the private cremation of Jim Skelf, husband to Dorothy, father to Jenny and grandfather to Hannah. Jim has successfully run the funeral home business for decades and recently starting a side line as a private investigator and his death has meant that the three women in his life have to take over the family businesses.

As a huge fan of the TV series Six Feet Under from 2001 to 2005 I had high expectations and was slightly concerned about a “male” author writing about three strong and individual female characters without resorting to cliches. Silly me!

Firstly, I absolutely fell in love with each of these wonderful women, 70 year old Dorothy who is grieving the loss of her husband, trying to keep the business running and also discovering that Jim may have had a secret life. Then, there is daughter Jenny, a 40 something divorcee who has had to return home to help her mother run the family business and finds herself embroiled in some PI work which she could never have imagined and finally there is grand-daughter Hannah, a University student who’s best friend and flat mate has disappeared and Hannah is determined to find out why.

Alongside their investigations there is still the funeral home to run and despite the rather grim and often sad circumstances surrounding any death, the Skelfs are professional, caring and respectful to the dearly departed and their bereaved families.

A Dark Matter is rather nuts in places though despite the setting, and without giving anything away, there is some unorthodox grave digging, a cat called Schrödinger and a human BBQ.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, the dark humour, the wonderful 3 main characters, the setting and the authors vivid descriptions of Edinburgh and I can’t wait to start the next book in the series.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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