Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone

Mandie loves the Skelfs series every bit as much as I do, so couldn’t wait to get stuck in to Black Hearts, the latest book in the series. If you want to know how much I loved it (and I will say now there are chillies involved) you can find my review here. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Owned 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…

Mandie’s Thoughts

On the face of it a series about a family of strong yet very different women who run an undertakers and a detective agency shouldn’t work but this one does in spades. Black Hearts is the latest offering in the Skelf series and is probably the darkest one yet with Doug Johnstone somehow managing to put Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah well and truly through the emotional and physical wringer.

Jenny is really struggling with the aftermath of the events that took place in The Great Silence and as her past actions come back to haunt her she has set herself on a very destructive downward spiral that did at times make me want to smack her and tell her to stop being so selfish and sort herself out. Whilst I have no idea what she would be feeling mentally after everything there is still at times something of the spoilt child in her actions that you would not expect of someone of her age. At times it is as though her family do not matter and are not also dealing with the past events and only she is affected.

Hannah has always been quite independent, so it is hard to see her questioning everything as she deals with both the fallout of her mum’s behaviour and her own issues with a stalker that threatens her safety and her marriage to Indie. Usually, she can escape in her studies but even this does not give her the welcome distraction that she craves. What you do see though is her strong bond with Indie and the determination that with work they can overcome everything and become stronger than ever.

Dorothy’s compassion is as evident as ever as she takes on two cases that do not quite turn out as expected. It is her dealings with her one elderly client who is convinced that his wife is haunting him that show just how much she will take on to get to the bottom of things. From this case we get introduced to the “wind phone” which even to a cynic like me seems like a lovely way for people to be able to finally say goodbye to their deceased loved ones when they are struggling. Who knows maybe this idea could really catch on.

I really do love the Skelf series and Black Hearts is my favourite to date. If I am being honest I am not sure if it is because Doug Johnstone has thrown everything at Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah or if it because at the heart of it there is a strong sense of family, showing that together you can deal with grief in so many ways. I am so looking forward to the next in the series if nothing else just to see what is in store for the women and if finally they can have an easier time of things (although my money would be on probably not).

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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