“The monsters in our lives don’t look like monsters, horns and slavering fangs. The worst deeds in the world are done by people who like like any of us.”
We pick up one year after the events of the second book in the Skelfs series, “The Big Chill“.
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.
“Grief never died, it lay dormant then surprised you with painful waves at random times.”
Dorothy Skelf – 71 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. Though they are now lovers, Dorothy still feels that she is betraying her late husband’s memory…
In this book while in the park walking her dog, Einstein finds a severed human foot.
Jenny – Dorothy’s daughter is a 46 year-old divorcée. She works more on the private detective side of the business than the funeral side. Still reeling from the events of the previous book, Jenny is lonely and regretting parting ways with Liam. In this book Jenny is hired by twin siblings who think their mother is a victim of a handsome Italian man who acts as caregiver for her.
Hannah – Jenny’s daughter and Dorothy’s granddaughter, is 21 years old. She is in a solid lesbian relationship with Indy, who works for the family firm and is training to be a funeral director. Hannah has recently earned her PhD in astrophysics. She now works part-time in both family businesses. In this book Hannah is investigating one of her fellow physicists who thinks someone is pranking him with messages from aliens.
Also, Hannah and Indy encounter a jaguar while on one of their walks. It is assumed to be escaped from a local zoo or other wildlife refuge and it is terrorizing Edinburgh’s green spaces.
Abi – is a teenage runaway whom Dorothy took in during “The Big Chill”. Now fifteen years old, she is in a band and plays the drums. Her personal history comes to visit the Skelfs during this book.
Schrödinger – the Skelf family’s ginger tabby, is a welcome diversion throughout the novel. Aloof, yet affectionate, Schrödinger is outwardly disdainful of Einstein, the canine member of the family, yet he cares for him in his own catty way.
Einstein – the newest member of the Skelf family is a one-eyed collie who Dorothy adopted in a unique way. He is devoted to Dorothy.
After reading the first two books in Doug Johnstone’s Skelf series, I was very much anticipating this follow-up. If anything, I found it even more enjoyable than the first two books, due to the fact that now I’m familiar with the characters, and they have become almost like friends. If ever there was a ‘character-rich’ series, this is it.
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, and how the women support one another.
Set in Edinburgh, the novel explores themes of loss, grief, avarice, and our collective longing for interpersonal connection. The author’s obvious affection for his home city permeates the entire novel.
Written with empathy and skill, this crime novel displayed a richness in characterization along with unique and clever plotting that makes this series stand out from its peers. The books read like a pleasing cross between crime thriller and literary fiction. I found the three strong female protagonists fascinating, and I am eager to read more about their lives and exploits in further books. Guess you could say I’m an ardent Skelf fan. The ending was fitting in every respect. Highly recommended!
ISBN: 9781913193836 – ASIN: B097C6RXKN – 346 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.