A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone

Blog tour: 1 to 31 January 2020

Synopsis

After an unexpected death, three generations of women take over the family funeral-home and PI businesses in the first book of a brilliant, page-turning and darkly funny new series.

The Skelfs are a well-known Edinburgh family, proprietors of a long-established funeral-home business, and private investigators. When patriarch Jim dies, it’s left to his wife Dorothy, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah to take charge of both businesses, kicking off an unexpected series of events.

Dorothy discovers mysterious payments to another women, suggesting that Jim wasn’t the husband she thought he was. Hannah’s best friend Mel has vanished from university, and the simple adultery case that Jenny takes on leads to something stranger and far darker than any of them could have imagined.

As the women struggle to come to terms with their grief, and the demands of the business threaten to overwhelm them, secrets from the past emerge, which change everything … It’s a compelling and tense thriller and a darkly funny, warm portrait of a family in turmoil.

My review

In A Dark Matter, in Edinburgh, we meet three generations of the Skelf family, at a time when they have experienced the awful event of the death of patriarch, Jim, aged 70, from a sudden heart attack. His wife, Dorothy, also 70, daughter, Jenny, aged 45, and granddaughter, Hannah, 20, are all struggling to cope with the death of such a big character and must work together and take over the reins of the family funeral business and private investigator firm.

While they each try to be strong and come to terms with Jim’s death in their own way and cope with the relentless pressures of the funeral business, other events occur and secrets are revealed that shake their very foundations and make them question everything they know about life and death.

Hannah is a physic student at the local university and when her friend and flatmate, Mel, goes missing and doesn’t meet her parents for a celebratory birthday meal for her mum, no one seems to take her disappearance seriously, including the local police force, so Hannah investigates herself and gets in a few scrapes while trying to uncover the truth.

After being made unemployed from her freelance work, divorced Jenny decides to give notice on her flat in Portobello to stay and help her mum with the business and ends up investigating the husband of someone whose sister committed suicide as his wife believes he is having an affair.

Drum-playing Dorothy has questions of her own about her husband of 50 years, Jim, after a startling financial discovery, and she asks an old police friend, Thomas Olsson, to look into things for her.

We also learn about the general workings of both businesses and meet the families and friends of several people who have died or who require the private investigation services.

I really enjoyed this dark, engrossing book! I liked the fact it was something a bit different from usual – whoever heard of a funeral director company that also specialises in private investigation work?! The main characters, Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah, were all rather strong women and I admired their persistence and courage at a difficult time. Hannah’s girlfriend, Indy, is also really brave, caring and thoughtful, despite experiencing some hard times in her life too.

There were some lovely descriptions of Edinburgh and its various sights, as well as the local bars and restaurants, and it was also fascinating to learn more about the procedures involved in preparing bodies for funerals and cremations.

Overall an intriguing book with several layers and strands of stories and I enjoyed getting to know all three generations of the Skelf family. The book was well plotted and very entertaining and I was gripped by events and keen to find out how everything was resolved. I like police procedural-type books rather than cosy crime reads and, although the women’s investigations were carried out in a rather unusual fashion with some rather bizarre decisions and actions at times, I liked the way the story unfolded and facts were revealed, coming to a dramatic conclusion as the various cases were solved. A rather dark story line with some unpleasant scenes but never morbid and there were some amusing and touching moments too.

I’m looking forward to reading more about the Skelfs and their escapades in the next book in the series and will be checking out the author’s other books like Fault Lines and Breakers, which I already have on my Kindle.

Buy the book

A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.

About the author

Doug Johnstone is the author of 10 novels, most recently Breakers (2018), which has been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. Several of his books have been bestsellers 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 – including a funeral home – and has been an arts journalist for 20 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.

Twitter: @doug_johnstone
Website: https://dougjohnstone.com

Blog tour

Thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for my digital copy of A Dark Matter and for my place on the blog tour.

See the banner below for more stops on the #blogtour.

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