Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone

Today I am delighted to join the blog tour for Black Hearts,the brand new book in the Skelfs series by Doug Johnstone. I absolutely love this series and, whilst the end to book three. The Great Silence, seemed almost a good place to end, I was so excited when I heard that Orenda books were going to be publishing two more books. My thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda for the early copy of the book, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for my tour invite. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Advance Reader Copy
Release Date: 29 September 2022
Publisher: Orenda Books

About the Book

Death is just the beginning…

The Skelf women live in the shadow of death every day, running the family funeral directors and private investigator business in Edinburgh. But now their own grief interwines with that of their clients, as they are left reeling by shocking past events.

A fist-fight by an open grave leads Dorothy to investigate the possibility of a faked death, while a young woman’s obsession with Hannah threatens her relationship with Indy and puts them both in mortal danger. An elderly man claims he’s being abused by the ghost of his late wife, while ghosts of another kind come back to haunt Jenny from the grave … pushing her to breaking point.

As the Skelfs struggle with increasingly unnerving cases and chilling danger lurks close to home, it becomes clear that grief, in all its forms, can be deadly…

My Thoughts

I don’t like matching books to genres and sub-genres, trying hard to shoehorn a book into a particular category of book just so that people have an inkling as to what the contents might be about. When it comes to Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone, that is a near impossible task and, to me, the only thing you need to know about the book is that it is excellent and a more than welcome addition to an already outstanding series of books. If you love The Skelfs, you will love this book too. How can you not, with this beautiful blend of melancholy, science, music, humour and above, all else, family?

Family is, in itself, perhaps the key theme of this book. The ties that bind, be they good or bad, and the overwhelming impact of loss upon those left behind. Grief is a powerful emotion, one that leads people to do the strangest of things, especially if the bearer is consumed by that other powerful, and truly negative entity – guilt. Family has always been at the heart of the series, largely because of the generational ties between our three main protagonists, matriarch Dorothy, her daughter, Jenny and granddaughter, Hannah. We have always had the exquisite exploration of of each of their personalities and how they rely upon each other, drawing strength from their bond and facing challenges and investigations that most people would baulk at. Funeral Directors turned Private Investigators, they are a unique trio, with Dorothy and Hannah perhaps with a more clearly defined sense of self, Jenny, the one who is somewhat adrift, uncertain of her future and with an exaggerated tendency towards self destruction, which is never more evident that in this book.

But beyond the Skelf women and their ongoing and highly charged backstory, which began way back in A Dark Matter, took and explosive turn in The Great silence and reaches new and truly dramatic heights in this book, Black Hearts also follows four very different family situations which link back to the Skelfs’ business and, in one case, personal lives in unexpected ways. A son whose mother died following the disappearance of his father, a husband so lost in grief for his wife he believes she is trying to contact him from the other side, a woman who has noone to mourn her passing, and a young woman who cares too much and whose grief takes a very unhealthy, and potentially deadly, turn. |

There are some really strong emotions in play here, and Doug Johnstone captures the essence of each with absolute surety that my reactions went from sadness to incredulity to anger with the evolution of each new chapter. There is a beauty to the authors writing, the way in which he can so completely draw you into his narrative that at one moment you may be immersed in a seemingly complicated discussion about theoretical physics and astronomy, the next navigating the spirit world and joining the hunt in a missing person investigation, and yet each transition is seamless, and each manipulation of your senses so subtle that it’s hard to know quite where the resultant manifestation of emotion came from.

The Skelfs are the stars of this series, without a shadow of a doubt, but Doug Johnstone creates such memorable situations and supporting characters that they remain etched in your conscious long after you close the book. This may have had a more sedentary opening that some of the previous books but trust me, that does not last long. There is a sense of calm from the familiarity of the chaos that accompanies the opening chapter, a feeling of coming home. That home may be fractured, some wounds taking a long time to heal, but The Skelf women, along with Thomas, Indie and Archie, have the strength to deal with all that comes their way. From moments of tension, to moments of quiet reflection, the ebb and flow of this book is pitched perfectly and I absolutely ate it up. Fans of the series will not be disappointed. Well … aside from when you read that last page as that means we have to wait (almost) patiently for book five now …

And yes – it’s earned one of these.

I’d forgotten how much I loved this series. Won’t forget again.

About the Author

Doug Johnstone is the author of twelve novels, most recently The Great Silence, the third in the Skelfs series, which has been optioned for TV. In 2021,The Big Chill, the second in the series, was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. In 2020, A Dark Matter, the first in the series, was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year and the Capital Crime Amazon Publishing Independent Voice Book of the Year award. Black Hearts (Book four), will be published in 2022. Several of his books have been best sellers 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

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