I love a book set in Edinburgh, where I know all the streets and landmarks so well. It always draws me into a book. So when this book started with a dramatic police chase, culminating in a crash at a funeral in the very cemetery where my grandparents are buried, that was it, I was hooked!
The Big Chill sees us joining the women of the Skelf family once more. The Skelf family run a funeral directors and also are private investigators. Dorothy is the matriarch of the family, Jenny her daughter and Hannah is her grand-daughter. It’s the second in the series to feature the family (A Dark Matter was the first), but it’s a standalone in terms of the investigations the women are involved in. However, there is one significant plotline carried forward from the first book (which looks like it will continue into a third), although there is enough backstory included for any new readers to get the gist of what has happened.
It’s fair to say that life is never dull for the Skelf women. The youngest member of the family Hannah, is attending counselling sessions for reasons I won’t reveal but each week her counsellor must have wondered what on earth was going to have happened to her client that week! There are three cases being investigated, as well as that plot line I mentioned which carried forward from the previous book, so there’s lots happening from those first dramatic pages to the equally dramatic closing chapters.
The Skelf women are strong female characters for certain but in this book we begin to see some of their vulnerabilities, the things which get under their skins and their softer sides. For me this made them even more appealing and interesting, more human. It will be interesting to see how they cope emotionally with the fallout from what happens in this book. It’s bound to take a toll on their mental health!
I particularly enjoyed the way many different aspects of family were explored in this book, and not just the Skelf family. Doug Johnstone casts doubt on the usual assumption that being a family means unconditional love. With the narrative shifting from one woman to the other in short, snappy chapters, The Big Chill is a fast-paced book which certainly holds the attention throughout.
My thanks to the publishers Orenda Books for sending me an early copy of the book and to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of the tour. The Bog Chill is available now as an ebook and will be published in paperback on Monday 20th August. Please order your copy from an independent bookshop if you can. Otherwise, you will find buying options for various retailers on the Orenda website here: The Big Chill
From the back of the book
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.
About the author
Doug Johnstone is a writer, musician and journalist based in Edinburgh. His tenth novel, Breakers, was published by Orenda Books in May 2019, and was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. His previous books include The Jump, shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize, Gone Again, an Amazon bestseller, and Hit & Run, which was an Amazon #1 as well as being selected as a prestigious Fiction Uncovered winner. His work has received praise from the likes of Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, William McIlvanney, Megan Abbott and Christopher Brookmyre.
Doug has been Writer in Residence with William Purves Funeral Directors. He is also a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow, and was RLF Fellow at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh 2014-2016. Doug was also Writer in Residence at the University of Strathclyde 2010-2012 and before that worked as a lecturer in creative writing there. He’s had short stories appear in various publications and anthologies, and since 1999 he has worked as a freelance arts journalist, primarily covering music and literature. He is also a manuscript assessor for The Literary Consultancy and Emergents in the Scottish Highlands. He has taught creative writing at festivals and conferences and regularly at Moniack Mhor, and he has mentored aspiring writers for New Writing North and Scottish Book Trust.
Doug is one of the co-founders of the Scotland Writers Football Club, for whom he also puts in a shift in midfield as player-manager. He is also a singer, musician and songwriter in several bands, including Northern Alliance, who have released four albums to critical acclaim, as well as recording an album as a fictional band called The Ossians. Doug has also released three solo EPs. He plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a crime writing supergroup featuring Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre, Stuart Neville and Luca Veste.
Doug has a degree in physics, a PhD in nuclear physics and a diploma in journalism, and worked for four years designing radars. He grew up in Arbroath and lives in Portobello, Edinburgh with his wife and two children.