The Big Chill
By Doug Johnstone
Rated: 5 stars *****
I hadn’t read any of Doug Johnstone’s books before, but I am very glad I have had the opportunity to read and review now. It turns out he’s very good in what he writes and I can see why he’s so critically accalimed. The Big Chill is a very good thriller that has depth of character and plot to it.
Discover more about this Edinburgh based author, the blurb and my review.
I also thank Orenda Books for supplying me with a book and Anne for inviting me on the blog tour.
About the Author
McIlvanney-shortlisted Doug Johnstone’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed A Dark Matter, which introduced three generations of women from the Skelf family, who run both a funeral home and a private investigation business.
Doug Johnstone is the author of more ten novels, most recently Breakers (2019), which has been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year and A Dark Matter (2020), which launched the Skelfs series. 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, which he drew on to write A Dark Matter – 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.
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?
Fast-paced, darkly funny, yet touching and tender, the Skelf family series is a welcome reboot to the classic PI novel, whilst also asking deeper questions about family, society and grief.
Meet Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah. They each have a chapter that rotates as the story goes along.
Set in Edinburgh, Scotland, the writing is well-plotted and enthralling, throughout. The Big Chill is interesting, intriguing and tightly written. I like the chapters alternating between each of the people mentioned above. Their parts that create the bigger picture of the story, are all interwoven well.
There are some cleverly placed film references in the book, which is enjoyable and quite different.
Dorothy and Jenny like being surrounded by dead people. Work takes them between the funeral parlour and being a Private Investagator.
Jenny is hired to find evidence of Orla, Liam’s wife, having an affair with the gardener.
Hannah on the other-hand is getting therapy because of something that happened to her dad.
There’s a fabulous energy through the main characters, fuelled by their anger of what happened to Hannah’s dad. It’s just very realistically written and allows readers to feel their anger and feel compassion for them.
It’s an interesting subject to write about – death in the way this book is written. There’s death, but there’s also a person with a psychological condition that is under control, but has made him believe he was dead.
The story looks a bit into what goes on in a funeral parlour, which is fairly different and how different people have died, which is fascinatingly written into this fictional book.
There’s deaths, including a murder, a case to be solved once as there is a suspect and at the heart of it all is Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah. I enjoyed both the thriller element and how their lives are revealed.
I also like the tones within it and that whole pussy-footing around trying not to say the word “dead” to Hannah and her saying that it is okay to say “dead” to her is so realistically done. There is also the sadness, but also the compelling nature of this thriller, with a little bit of humour mixed in, that makes each page so enticing to read.