The Big Chill – Doug Johnstone (The Skelfs #2)

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.

Book Info: 319 pages. Publisher: Orenda. Publication Date: 20 June 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:

If you follow my blog (which you obviously do or you wouldn’t be reading this review!) you will know that I have only just discovered the Skelfs despite the first book sitting forgotten on my kindle for over 2 years and as I thoroughly enjoyed A Dark Matter, I sat down to catch up with The Skelfs in the second book in the series The Big Chill.

This book follows on from A Dark Matter and whilst you probably could read this series in any order, I would strongly recommend starting with book 1 so you can get to know Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah properly.

Once again Doug Johnstone has brought these formidable and fantastic female characters to life, each with their own unique personalities, funny, strong, flawed and fabulous.

The story opens with a bang (literally) when Matriarch Dorothy is conducting a funeral and a police car chase through the cemetary results in a near miss for Dorothy, but a fatal accident for the young driver. This results in Dorothy determined to find out who this young man is at the same time as investigating one of her pupils sudden disappearance.

Meanwhile Jenny and Hannah are having to deal with the aftermath of Craig’s crimes and the devastation his actions have caused which is affecting their own personal relationships.

With several ongoing private investigations and funerals The Skelfs are tested professionally, personally and emotionally during The Big Chill but throughout the story the dark humour brings a much needed light relief which makes the reader fall even more deeply in love with these amazing women.

5 chilly stars from me and I’ve already bought book 3 to read next.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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