“The Big Chill” by Doug Johnstone – Book Review

“It’s easy to be moral if those morals aren’t tested.”

We pick up six months after the events of the first book in the Skelfs series, “Dark Matter”.

The Skelfs have two businesses which they run out of their large Victorian house in Edinburgh. They run a funeral parlour AND a private detective agency.

It is up to the three strong Skelf women to carry the legacy of Jim Skelf, now deceased. Three generations of women, each with their own distinct set of hopes, fears, biases, and opinions – tied together with deep affection.

“We’re all a mystery to others and ourselves.”

Dorothy Skelf – 70 years old and Jim’s widow. She grew up in California, but has lived in Edinburgh for the past fifty years as Jim’s wife and business partner. She is very fit for her age due to her love of yoga and her passion for playing the drums. Despite her continued grief for her late husband, Dorothy is a strong matriarch who keeps her family and the business on track. She does so with the help of D.I. Thomas Olsson, a black, Swedish policeman fifteen years her junior, yet increasingly important to her both personally and professionally.

Jenny – Dorothy’s daughter is a divorcée in her early forties.  She works more on the private detective side of the business than the funeral side. Still reeling from the attack by her ex-husband Craig, she is attempting to move forward with the aid of the new man in her life, Liam.

Hannah – Jenny’s daughter and Dorothy’s granddaughter, is 20 years old. She is in a lesbian relationship with Indy, who works for the family firm and is training to be a funeral director. Hannah is now taking a break from university where she studied quantum physics. She now works part-time in both family businesses. Deeply troubled and traumatized by the events which took place in the first book, she is now seeing a therapist. One of the professors at her university apparently committed suicide and Hannah wants to discover the reason why.

Schrödinger – the Skelf family’s ginger tabby, is a welcome diversion throughout the novel. Aloof, yet affectionate, Schrödinger is disdainful of Einstein, the new canine addition to the family.

Einstein – the newest member of the Skelf family is a one-eyed collie who Dorothy adopts in a unique way.

After reading Doug Johnstone’s “A Dark Matter“, the first book in the Skelf series, I was very much anticipating this follow-up. If anything, I found it even more enjoyable than the first book, due to the fact that now I’m familiar with the characters, and they have become almost like friends.

With a unique family dynamic, and an even more unique family business, this series had me hooked from the beginning. The Skelf women are memorable, moral, and authentic.

In addition to the family’s personal stories, I enjoyed following the cases they were working on throughout the book.

Middle Meadow Walk in spring

Set in Edinburgh, in early spring, the novel explores loss, revenge, betrayal, selfishness, and guilt. If there is a moral to the story it is that we must all grab happiness where we can – for life is short.

Written with an engaging dark humour, this crime novel displayed a richness in characterization along with unique and clever plotting that made the story stand out from its peers.  The book reads as a pleasing cross between crime thriller and literary fiction. I found the three strong female protagonists fascinating, and the I am eager to read more about their lives and exploits in further books. Guess you could say I’m an ardent fan.  The ending left one of the story-lines unresolved which makes me desperate to read book three in the Skelf series. Highly recommended!

This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Orenda Books via Anne Cater so that I could participate in this blog tour.      ISBN: 9781913193348 –  ASIN: B0885ZNW86  –  300 pages

Doug Johnstone is an author, journalist and musician based in Edinburgh. He’s had nine novels published, most recently Fault Lines. His previous novel, The Jump, was a finalist for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. Several of his other novels have been award winners and bestsellers, and he’s had short stories published in numerous anthologies and literary magazines. His work has been praised by the likes of Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Irvine Welsh. Several of his novels have been optioned for film and television. Doug is also a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow. He’s worked as an RLF Fellow at Queen Margaret University, taught creative writing at Strathclyde University and William Purves Funeral Directors. He mentors and assesses manuscripts for The Literary Consultancy and
regularly tutors at Moniack Mhor writing retreat. Doug has released seven albums in various bands, and is drummer, vocalist and occasional guitarist for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He also reviews books for The Big Issue magazine, is player-manager for Scotland Writers Football Club and has a PhD in nuclear physics.

Follow Doug Johnstone on Twitter.


About Fictionophile

Fiction reviewer ; Goodreads librarian. Retired library cataloger - more time to read! Loves books, gardening, and red wine. I have been a reviewer member of NetGalley since October 2013. I review titles offered by Edelweiss, and participate in blog tours with TLC Book Tours.
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20 Responses to “The Big Chill” by Doug Johnstone – Book Review

  1. Pingback: “The Great Silence” by Doug Johnstone – Book Review | Fictionophile

  2. Pingback: “The Great Silence” by Doug Johnstone – Book Review @OrendaBooks #TheGreatSilence #BookReview @doug_johnstone | Fictionophile

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  6. Kerry Swan says:

    Hi, I was so impressed with the Susie Steiner trilogy you recommended that I’ve bought the first novel in this series too. Thanks for your recommendations and reviews. I’m only reading books recommended by bloggers this year, preferably with 5* reviews.


  7. Damyanti Biswas says:

    Interesting review.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Links I’ve Enjoyed This Week – 09/08/2020 #WeeklyRoundUpPost 🔗📆 🔗 #SecretLibraryBookBlog – Secret Library Book Blog

  9. annecater says:

    Thanks so much for the blog tour support xx

    Liked by 1 person

  10. James McEwan says:

    Yes, I have read a few of this author’s books – Gone Again, Crash Land – being two. I have not got into the new series of ‘The Skelfs’ ( Scottish word describing a thorn or splinter stuck into your hand/skin. I wonder if this was foremost in the author’s mind when he decided on using this name).
    I went to one of the author’s book presentation and signing, and found him to be an interesting person, approachable about his work and pleasant to listen to.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Shalini says:

    Wow fantastic review. This is in my line of reads

    Liked by 1 person

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