The Big Chill by Doug Johnstone #BookReview #BlogTour


Running private investigator and funeral home businesses means trouble is never far away, and the Skelf women take on their most perplexing, chilling cases yet in book two of this darkly funny, devastatingly tense and addictive new series!

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 that matriarch 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 sucked into an unbearable darkness – but could the real threat be to themselves?

Following three women as they deal with the dead, help the living and find out who they are in the process, The Big Chill follows A Dark Matter, book one in the Skelfs series, which reboots the classic PI novel while asking the big existential questions, all with a big dose of pitch-black humour.

It's such a pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for The Big Chill today. Huge thanks to Doug Johnstone, Orenda Books and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance digital copy of the novel.

We first met the Skelfs - Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah earlier this year in A Dark Matter and The Big Chill takes place six months after the events in that book. It's worth saying here that while this second novel can easily be enjoyed as a standalone, I would recommend reading the series in order if possible to fully appreciate the ongoing development of the characters.

The Big Chill is a book about secrets, which of course shouldn't come as a surprise to the three women, who as well as being funeral directors, have a private investigation business. This time they are running investigations into cases that are personal to them; Dorothy wants to discover the identity of the deceased young homeless man who crashed a car into an open grave at a funeral she was conducting and she is worried about Abi, her young drumming student who may be missing. Meanwhile, Hannah makes a grim discovery of her own and is driven to find out more. These aren't the only secrets, however, as all three women are also keeping their true feelings concealed from their loved ones.

One of the most notable aspects of the novel is that the emotional impact of traumatic events is realistically depicted and all three Skelf women are clearly still attempting to deal with their conflicted feelings following the dramatic revelations in the first book. Hannah is the only one to be attempting any form of therapy - although she often seems to use humour as a deflection to avoid confronting the true awfulness of what she is experiencing. Meanwhile, despite her guilt and anger, Jenny still feels a connection to her ex-husband, Craig, and Dorothy is still grieving for Jim and though her body tells her she's ageing, she is clearly not yet ready to be old. As funeral directors they are surrounded by death and though there is some comfort to be found in the familiar rituals, there are times where it becomes almost too difficult to bear and there's one particular scene which is written with beautiful, heartbreaking honesty.

There are some difficult topics included here, including suicide, addiction and homelessness which particularly resonated with me because my brother was a heroin addict who died by suicide and I really appreciated the scene where terminology around suicide is discussed. Whenever Doug Johnstone writes about contemporary societal issues he does so with great insight but also with real integrity and compassion. Set in Edinburgh, the sense of place is superb and is a heartfelt love letter to the city, reflecting its problems as well as its many charms.

The three Skelfs would all make wonderful lead characters in their own rights. Jenny is perhaps the most tempestuous of them and she is an unpredictable yet entirely relatable woman, and Hannah's interest in Quantum Physics allows for some fascinating and thoughtful existential discussions which really appealed to my geeky side. Dorothy is probably my favourite however, and I love that she's a grandmother who listens to The Avalanches and My Chemical Romance when she's drumming. There's a point later in the book where a character talking to Dorothy observes, "An old dear private eye driving a hearse. Honey, someone should write your story." but The Big Chill is definitely not cosy crime. It's not entirely dark though and the novel is interspersed throughout with genuine empathy and biting black humour.

The title fits this story perfectly; taken from a theory about how the universe may eventually end in a meaningless nothingness, it also cleverly links both to their work as funeral directors and to the chilling developments which take place here. There is nothing cold about Doug Johnstone's writing however, and The Big Chill is as warm as it is compelling. This is one of those books that touched me deeply and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The Big Chill is published by Orenda Books, it is available now as an ebook and will be out in paperback on 20th August. Purchasing links can be found here but please consider supporting independent bookstores whenever possible.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Doug Johnstone is the author of ten novels, including Breakers (2018), which was 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, 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.
Twitter  Website


Post a Comment