A Dark Matter is the latest novel from Doug Johnstone and is available in paperback from today. It was partly inspired by his time as writer in residence at a funeral directors in Edinburgh. It begins with three generations of the Skelf family attending the cremation of Jim Skelf, in a rather unorthodox send-off. As well as owning and running the Skelf family funeral directors, Jim had a sideline in private detective work. With Jim gone, the women of the family soon find themselves getting involved in various investigations. In days gone by, funeral directors often were joiners or cabinet makers too so it could be said that the Skelf family are keeping up tradition by having a second line of business.
Is ‘skelf’ a Scottish word? I have a feeling that it might be. So just in case you aren’t familiar with the word, let me explain that it’s a word for a small splinter of wood, something that gets stuck under your skin and can be painful and irritating. Now I definitely didn’t find the book irritating but the characters and plots definitely got under my skin.
I loved the Edinburgh setting and Doug Johnstone’s mentions of so many places familiar to me really brought the city to life for me. Ironic perhaps given the undertakers theme! This is a distinctly Scottish book from its setting, to the characters and to the way they spoke. I had a smile when reading that the Meadows were hoaching one warm evening. Does everyone know what hoaching means? The language used and the places mentioned were just spot on. I admit to being a little unnerved though at what was going on one dark night at the cemetery just up the road from where I live…
I thought writing about three generations of women and having the chapters narrated from each one’s point of view worked really well. Dorothy was the grandmother and Jim’s widow and perhaps rather surprisingly an excellent drummer! Jenny was her daughter, somewhat down on her luck and finding that getting involved with the family business was just what she needed at that point in time. Hannah was Jenny’s daughter, a student at Edinburgh university with a close connection to one of the investigations. There was something of interest about each of these strong women and I found the cases they were working on really intriguing. The Skelfs really were a fascinating family.
What I like about Doug Johnstone’s books is that they are all quite different. This book isn’t just a crime book, isn’t just a straightforward murder mystery, isn’t just about running a funeral director business, isn’t just a family drama but includes elements of each (and dare I suggest the tiniest hint of romance?) and the different parts all complement each other really well. I am pleased that A Dark Matter is the first in a series to feature the Skelf women and I’m looking forward to finding out where their next investigations lead.
My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blogtour and to Karen Sullivan of Orenda for an early copy of the book. A Dark Matter is published by Orenda Books and available now in ebook and paperback formats. You should be able to buy or order it from your usual book retailer or you will find various buying options on the Orenda website here: A Dark Matter
From the back of the book
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.
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