Today I’m delighted to share my thoughts on book three in the Skelfs series by Doug Johnstone, The Great Silence. I have loved reading this series and I’m kind of sad that we’ve reached the final book in the trilogy as the Skelf women have been wonderful characters to get to know. My thanks to publisher Orenda Books for sending me an advance copy of the book for review, meaning I was able to read the book really early. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
The discovery of a human foot in an Edinburgh park, the inexplicable circumstances of a dying woman, and the missing daughter of Jenny’s violent ex-husband present the Skelf women with their most challenging – and deadly – cases yet…
Keeping on top of the family funeral directors’ and private-investigation businesses is no easy task for the Skelf women, and when matriarch Dorothy discovers a human foot while walking the dog, a perplexing case presents itself … with potentially deadly results.
Daughter Jenny and grand-daughter Hannah have their hands full too: The mysterious circumstances of a dying woman lead them into an unexpected family drama, Hannah’s new astrophysicist colleague claims he’s receiving messages from outer space, and the Skelfs’ teenaged lodger has yet another devastating experience.
Nothing is clear as the women are immersed ever deeper in their most challenging cases yet. But when the daughter of Jenny’s violent and fugitive ex-husband goes missing without trace and a wild animal is spotted roaming Edinburgh’s parks, real danger presents itself, and all three Skelfs are in peril.
Taut, dark, warmly funny and unafraid to ask big questions – of us all – The Great Silence is the much-anticipated third instalment in the addictive, unforgettable Skelfs series, and the stakes are higher than ever.
The hardest part in reviewing a great book is just starting. That is how I have felt about The Great Silence by Doug Johnstone and why I have been putting off writing the review for nearly a whole month. No excuses, I just don’t know how to say what I want to in a way that does the book justice but doesn’t spoil it for others who have yet to read the book.
If you have read and loved this series as I have then it’s kind of a bitter sweet moment reading this book as it is the end of the trilogy but I am really hoping, not the last we see of the three Skelf women. They have been a joy to spend time with, even if their lives have been somewhat turbulent and far from plain sailing. And, whichever way you look at these books – private investigation with a scientific slant, or family drama with the heart of a thriller, it is one hell of a memorable series for all of the right reasons. Perhaps it is just enough to simply list those then?
1) Doug Johnstone has given us some of the most memorable and original opening scenes in crime fiction. It doesn’t matter which of the three books you pick up, you could read the opening paragraphs and know just whose work you were reading. They may shock – this one in particular certainly made me smile – but they will stick in the mind long after you have finished the book.
2) In the Skelf women – Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah – you have three characters who are full of anxiety, passion, melancholy, determination, resignation and loyalty and everything in between. The characters are infused with a touch of the author’s own love of family, science and music which adds such authenticity to their personalities that you become completely invested in their lives. Who could help but love drumstick wielding rock-chick Gran Dorothy, or admire Hannah’s absolute love for all things scientific, or Jenny’s dedication to her family.
3) The stories are a perfect blend of tension, emotional depth and honesty which will have you on the edge of your seat one moment, laughing out loud the next and then experiencing the trembly bottom lip as Doug Johnstone skilfully plays with your emotions. Trust me, there are scenes in this book that will get that pulse thumping and others where you will be wiping the tear from your cheek, the one you really didn’t want to have to shed. Each story has an element within that is socially relevant, so representative of modern life, that it will in turn make you more aware of things and people around you. And the author does not skimp on putting these women through the mill – each time I wonder just how much further he can push them. Apparently, a long way …
4) The scene setting and narrative skill of the books put you right at the heart of the action. I can picture each setting perfectly, find myself salivating over the thought of a lovely Söderberg pastry every damned time, and almost feel the biting wind as it blows its way across the city of Edinburgh.
Are you tempted yet? I could tell you more about the story itself, about the missing person case, the unexpected family reunion, the Beast of Bruntsfield with its surprisingly emotional conclusion, or Hannah’s foray into the world of alien communication – yes really – but I think to understand and to feel the powerful emotions that the story elicits, you need to read it for yourself. So yes, I’m sad to see the end of this trilogy. We are brought pretty much full circle in this story, ending as we begin, the Skelfs a little more battle scarred and world weary than when we first met them, but I kind of love them all the more for it.
If you’d told me two years ago that a story of three generations of Edinburgh women – Funeral Directors-come-Private Investigators, would come to be one of my favourite crime series, I may have looked at you kind of funny. But, you know what? You’d have been right. Honest, gritty, socially relevant, powerful, emotional and just bloody good fun, this is a series and a book I would heartily recommend. Immerse yourself in the world of the Skelfs. You won’t regret it.
And I’m giving it one of these, for the book and for the series. Loved it.
About the Author
Doug Johnstone is the author of ten 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 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.
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