Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone | #bookreview #crimefiction | @doug_johnstone @OrendaBooks

Black Hearts in the fourth in Doug Johnstone’s Edinburgh set Skelfs series and we all know how much I love an Edinburgh setting in a book. I really enjoyed the first three books in this series and although it’s taken me a while to get around to reading this instalment, it was well worth the wait!

About the book

Death is just the beginning…

The Skelf women live in the shadow of death every day, running the family funeral directors and private investigator business in Edinburgh. But now their own grief intertwines with that of their clients, as they are left reeling by shocking past events.

A fist-fight by an open grave leads Dorothy to investigate the possibility of a faked death, while a young woman’s obsession with Hannah threatens her relationship with Indy and puts them both in mortal danger. An elderly man claims he’s being abused by the ghost of his late wife, while ghosts of another kind come back to haunt Jenny from the grave … pushing her to breaking point.

As the Skelfs struggle with increasingly unnerving cases and chilling danger lurks close to home, it becomes clear that grief, in all its forms, can be deadly…

My Thoughts

One thing I really enjoy about The Skelf books is that you don’t get just one story, there are multiple storylines. The chapters are written from the points of view of each of the three Skelf women in turn. Despite being of different generations, Doug Johnstone seems to capture their distinct personalities perfectly. There is danger as Hannah is the target of a stalker and it was scary to see just how easy it seemed to track her and make her wife feel suspicious. There’s intrigue as a elderly gentleman seems to think he’s been physically abused by his dead wife. There’s a possible faked death which comes to light in a fight over an open grave. There’s worry about Jenny whose life seems to be on a downward spiral as she struggles to cope with the death of her abusive husband.

Grief and its effects is a big theme of the Skelf books which is perhaps not surprising given that they are undertakers as well as private investigators. But we see that grief makes it mark even on these women who literally live and work with death. The books are never maudlin or too bleak though. Rather, the author writes in a way that will touch everyone who has ever experienced grief and who hasn’t?

Black Hearts a great addition to the Skelf series. With its short chapters, it’s a really pacy read and it’s so cleverly plotted. Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah are excellent characters, strong women but not without their faults and flaws. I don’t read a lot of crime novels but I always have time for Doug Johnstone’s books. Black Hearts is a book suffused with warmth, humour and insight and yet is simultaneously a gripping, tense page-turner.

Thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for sending me an early copy of this book.
Black Hearts is available now from all good bookshops.
As the book was launched at our local bookshop, The Portobello Bookshop,
I’m including a buying link for there: Black Hearts

About the Author

Photo ©Duncan McGlynn

Doug Johnstone is the author of twelve novels, most recently The Great Silence, the third in the Skelfs series, which has been optioned for TV. In 2021,The Big Chill, the second in the series, was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. In 2020, A Dark Matter, the first in the series, was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year and the Capital Crime Amazon Publishing Independent Voice Book of the Year award. Black Hearts (Book four), will be published in 2022. Several of his books have been best sellers 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. 


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