Death is just the beginning: Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone #bookreview #BlackHearts #theSkelfs

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 intertwines 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…


Hi and welcome to my review of Black Hearts!

Black Hearts is the fourth novel featuring the Skelf family. This was originally meant to be a trilogy but I was pleased as punch when I found out that there was to be a fourth instalment, as I, for one, was not ready to say goodbye to this brilliant family, and I felt there was more to tell.

For those who’ve missed it, the Skelfs were first introduced in A Dark Matter in 2019. The paterfamilias had just died, leaving his wife Dorothy, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah bereft. However, the Skelf women bounced back and throughout the sequels they have had to face A LOT but they’ve thrived and so has their dual business as undertakers / private investigators. Note that if you are new to the series I wouldn’t recommend jumping in at this point, start with the previous book (The Great Silence) at the very least, or better yet: start at the beginning, this is a series you don’t want to miss.

So much history accumulated together, like silt on a riverbank.

Now the Skelfs are back and trouble is afoot. I never put any faith in that old magpie nursery rhyme, but in this case, that one magpie on the cover definitely is one for sorrow. We find Dorothy investigating a “pseudocide” and looking into the story of a widower who talks to his late wife on a wind phone and claims she’s been abusing him. Meanwhile Hannah is pretty much being stalked by… an admirer? A fan? The Annie Wilkes to her Paul Sheldon, maybe? And Jenny, well she isn’t really coping with everything that came before and she’s in therapy… although some of that therapy would definitely be frowned upon by any disciplinary committee 😳

If anyone ever told you they had life sorted, they were delusional.

This whole series has this unique combination of mystery, thrills, drama, science and humour going on, not necessarily in that order, that I just can’t get enough of. Add excellent characterisation, with the characters bouncing off each other, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts, and a fabulous sense of setting in the city of Edinburgh, and I can’t say anything other than Black Hearts is a fantastic addition to an amazing series. Highly recommended. 

The question floated away in the breeze unanswered. The ravens settled their squabble and landed. Beyond them was Edinburgh, full of secrets and lies.

Massive thanks to Orenda Books for the eARC. All opinions are my own.

Black Hearts is out on 29 September in paperback and digital formats. Preorder directly from Orenda Books here.

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