The Big Chill – Doug Johnstone

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 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 immersed in an unbearable darkness – but could the real threat be to themselves?

The Big Chill follows on from the wonderful A Dark Matter in which we met the Skelf clan – Dorothy, her daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah, proprietors of a funeral home and also private investigators on the side.

A rather… unusual mixture of professions to say the least.

I have to say that it’s an absolute pleasure to be back in the company of the Skelfs again. Johnstone’s writing is, as ever, a joy to read and the intricate, interwoven plots a delight to untangle.

The action kicks off with the death of a young man driving a car, gatecrashing the funeral Dorothy has organised, and ending up as both client and case, the former for the funeral business and the latter for the detective agency, as Dorothy is determined to get to the bottom of who he is and why he ended up in someone else’s open grave.

Dorothy also has to contend with a missing drumming student whose parents seem rather less bothered than you’d expect. And Hannah is trying to work out the circumstances behind the death of a professor at her university. And Jenny has the ominous presence of her abusive ex-husband to deal with on top of everything else.

This book is so layered, so nuanced – it’s not just about solving the mysteries and the bodies, but a real character piece in which our trio bounce to life off the page, full of life, death, regrets, issues, love and loss. Oh, and embalming fluid. I love the way we see the story (or rather stories) from the viewpoints of the three women and watch them play out alongside each other.

Book 2 can be a tricky one to pull off well, especially following such a strong start with A Dark Matter, but Doug Johnstone is a safe pair of hands and has delivered another corking adventure for the Skelf ladies.

Here’s to book 3! Hugely recommended.

The Big Chill by Doug Johnstone is published by Orenda Books in August 2020. Many thanks to Anne Cater and Orenda Books for the review copy.

Author: dave

Book reviewer, occasional writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, spoon carver and stationery geek.

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