Review – The Big Chill by Doug Johnstone

The Big Chill Cover

Running private investigator and funeral home businesses means trouble is never far away, and the Skelf women take on their most perplexing, chilling cases yet in book two of this darkly funny, devastatingly tense and addictive new series!

Haunted by their past, the Skelf women are hoping for a quieter life. But running both a funeral directors’ and a private investigation business means trouble is never far away, and when a car crashes into the open grave at a funeral that matriarch Dorothy is conducting, she can’t help looking into the dead driver’s shadowy life.

While Dorothy uncovers a dark truth at the heart of Edinburgh society, her daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah have their own struggles. Jenny’s ex-husband Craig is making plans that could shatter the Skelf women’s lives, and the increasingly obsessive Hannah has formed a friendship with an elderly professor that is fast turning deadly.

But something even more sinister emerges when a drumming student of Dorothy’s disappears and suspicion falls on her parents. The Skelf women find themselves sucked into an unbearable darkness – but could the real threat be to themselves?

Following three women as they deal with the dead, help the living and find out who they are in the process, The Big Chill follows A Dark Matter, book one in the Skelfs series, which reboots the classic PI novel while asking the big existential questions, all with a big dose of pitch-black humour.


Today as part of Orenda October I am republishing my review of the second in the series of novels that feature the Skelfs family. It’s a wonderful series! 

I have been looking forward to this novel from the day I finished the last pages of the first in the series, A Dark MatterThe Big Chill is a superb sequel! Equal parts exciting, terrifying, deeply moving and heart warming. It has a caste of strong supportive women. and storylines so beautifully written, that the complex web of interconnecting cases flow together with ease,  It is like sitting down snuggled up in your favourite reading chair, curled up in your cwtch (think of it like a snug) and reading a book that just feels utterly perfect.

I adored once again spending time with Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah, the Skelfs, who are the most wonderful intergenerational undertakers and private investigators you could hope to meet. They are absolutely my very favourite set of characters, flawed yes, it’s what makes them interesting, but they also all have a heart of gold, they care about those they bury and the living for whom they help track down missing husbands etc. What comes across even more in The Big Chill is how much they care for each other, grandmother, mother, daughter will always be the very best matriarchy, a cherished dream, that seek to help others, while protecting each other.  Here they are having to face up to the consequences and events that took place in A Dark Matter, but they do this together, reaching out to each other when the mental and physical anguish threatens to overwhelm them and it simply made me love them all the more.  Dorothy is the seventy year old head of the family, but put aside your misconceptions, she is no doddery old lady who sits in the background, while her family solve the crimes and bury the deceased. She is in fact, looking forward to the future, considering a new and potentially meaningful relationship and putting her heart and soul into helping those in need. Her daughter Jenny is a battered and bruised former reporter, now finding herself as The Big Chill progresses more and more comfortable in the role of Private Investigator. Then Hannah, deeply sensitive, fragile and yet passionate and brave, makes up this trio of perfectly balanced characters. Then Doug Johnstone surrounds them with supporting characters that form an ensemble of such richness and diversity, you really feel as if your walking through the streets of Edinburgh, not in the pages of a book, but there with them, within their lives, sharing their triumphs and also their pain.

The Big Chill is made up of several narrative arcs which are woven into the fabric of the story. There is the tragic death of a young man, Hannah and her friendship with a professor that has deadly consequences, the mystery around one of Dorothy’s young students and the continuing and terrifying influence of Jenny’s ex-husband over all their lives.  Now that might sound too many, but I promise you it isn’t! All the individual stories tie together and flow effortlessly in and out of each other. The writing catches you up within it’s embrace and very much like with the characterisation, makes you feel as if you are in Edenborough. The sense of place within is pitch perfect, I felt as if I was sat with Jenny as she talked with the cities homeless. I ached for Hannah as she fought her own pain, fears and obsessions and I hoped with a tangible pang in my chest that Dorothy would take the first tentative steps in a life without her beloved husband.  Doug Johnstone made me feel all of this and more, in a novel that is far from being chilly as any book can be, he gives us pain, even violence, but at it’s magnificent heart are the Skelfs and I can’t wait to read more. More and more.

I would like to thank the author, publisher and blog tour organiser for the ARC in return for an honest review.

You can purchase The Big Chill from AmazonWaterstones and directly from the publisher in their ebookstore.

About the author 

Doug Johnstone Author Pic

Doug Johnstone is the author of ten novels, most recently Breakers (2018), which was longlisted 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, 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.

Follow Doug on Twitter @doug_johnstone and visit his website:

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