Meet the Skelfs: well-known Edinburgh family, proprietors of a long-established funeral-home business, and private investigators. When patriarch Jim dies, it’s left to his wife Dorothy, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah to take charge of both businesses, kicking off an unexpected series of events. Dorothy discovers mysterious payments to another woman, suggesting that Jim wasn’t the husband she thought he was. Hannah’s best friend Mel has vanished from university, and the simple adultery case that Jenny takes on leads to something stranger and far darker than any of them could have imagined. As the women struggle to come to terms with their grief, and the demands of the business threaten to overwhelm them, secrets from the past emerge, which change everything.
A compelling, tense and shocking thriller and a darkly funny and warm portrait of a family in turmoil, A Dark Matter introduces a cast of unforgettable characters, marking the start of an addictive new series.
Hi and welcome to FromBelgiumWithBookLove where today, I have a confession to make… Doug Johnstone’s last novel, Breakers, is one of my favourite books this
year century (click here if you need reminding why) so I was over the moon when I received an A Dark Matter ARC (thanks so much, Karen!!). But. I was also feeling rather trepidatious, just because I love Breakers so much. How on earth was A Dark Matter to live up to the expectations set by Breakers? To be perfectly honest, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve set an author up for failure because I loved their previous work so much. So today, I’m extremely happy to report that I was not disappointed at all, despite my ridiculous expectations!
A Dark Matter is a kind of family saga set in Edinburgh and focusing on three generations of women: matriarch Dorothy, her daughter Jenny and her granddaughter Hannah. The story starts with a bang: Jim, the patriarch of the family, has died, leaving his family and his businesses in turmoil and at the start of A Dark Matter,we find ourselves witnessing Jim being burned on a pyre in the garden. Not what you expected? No, me neither, but my attention was grabbed from the very first page!
Dorothy, who was already involved in the funeral home side of the business, is now suddenly also in charge of the private investigator business. Frankly, this combination struck me as odd at first, until someone in the novel pointed out that bereft family members are often left with a lot of questions about the deceased, which made total sense to me.
Throughout A Dark Matter, we learn a little something about the funeral business – nothing too explicit or horrendous, don’t worry – and I found this fascinating. Doug Johnstone tackles the delicate subject of death with grace and a dark, deadpan humour. Reading between the lines, the reader becomes well aware of how much the Skelf women are hurting, that they are trying to get over their grief by finding ways to carry on, by focusing on other matters at hand, in doing so becoming perhaps a tad obsessed.
Dorothy discovers that her husband was making monthly payments into the account of a woman she doesn’t know and becomes obsessed with it. Who is this woman, who was she to Jim, why was he paying her?
Hannah is desperate to find out what happened to her friend / roommate who has vanished and doesn’t care on whose toes she steps on her way to the truth.
And Jenny, who walked away from the family businesses years ago but after her father’s death, feels obliged to help out, and since she’s just been fired, it’s not like she has anything better to do. She crosses various lines trying to help Hannah and she’s also working her first PI case (presumed adultery).
A Dark Matter is clearly written post #MeToo, touching upon subjects like sexual intimidation, boundaries and crossing lines, the difference for men and women, the difference between what was considered sexual intimidation a few decades ago and now, and is in its own subtle way quite thought-provoking.
Although less gritty and harrowing, less emotional and emotionally draining than Breakers, A Dark Matter and its characters got under my skin just the same, albeit on another level. The short chapters alternating between the three women drew me into the story, and before long, I was rather obsessed myself, once again getting grumpy whenever life interrupted my reading. There is nothing about A Dark Matter that I didn’t love, from the original funeral home setting to the various PI cases, from the Skelf women to the supporting characters and of course Schrodinger, the cat (I am definitely naming my next cat Schrodinger!), from the dramatic start to the dramatic finale (I love it when a plan comes together, but I love it even more when a story comes together!)
A Dark Matter is further proof that Doug Johnstone is as versatile a writer as they come and maybe it’s just my imagination because we talked about him being an musician for #MusicMonday, but it feels to me like there’s rhythm and music in his words.
A Dark Matter is the first book in what is supposed to become a trilogy, or even a series, and I can’t wait for the next installment! Recommended!
A Dark Matter is out in eBook on 23 November (pre-order here, or visit the Orenda eBookstore when the time comes) and in paperback on 23 January 2020. Pre-order your paperback from Bert’s Books here and not only support two indies in one go but also get your paperback on 18 December! This is a Bert’s Books exclusive deal and if you ask me, you’d be crazy not to make good use of it!