Keeping on top of the family funeral directors’ and private-investigation businesses is no easy task for the Skelf women, and when matriarch Dorothy discovers a human foot while walking the dog, a perplexing case presents itself … with potentially deadly results.
Daughter Jenny and grand-daughter Hannah have their hands full too: The mysterious circumstances of a dying woman lead them into an unexpected family drama, Hannah’s new astrophysicist colleague claims he’s receiving messages from outer space, and the Skelfs’ teenaged lodger has yet another devastating experience.
Nothing is clear as the women are immersed ever deeper in their most challenging cases yet. But when the daughter of Jenny’s violent and fugitive ex-husband goes missing without trace and a wild animal is spotted roaming Edinburgh’s parks, real danger presents itself, and all three Skelfs are in peril.
Taut, dark, warmly funny and unafraid to ask big questions – of us all – The Great Silence is the much-anticipated third instalment in the addictive, unforgettable Skelfs series, and the stakes are higher than ever.
After all the trials of teaching through a pandemic, I felt like spending a week in stunning Yorkshire with The Skelfs was my reward and I bloody well deserved it. I’ve been waiting for book Three of this fantastic series ever since I finished The Big Chill and spending the day relaxing with some of my favourite ever Scottish charactersl was one of the highlights of my holidays for sure and as ever I’m grateful to Anne Cater for inviting me on the tour and to Karen Sullivan from Orenda for always picking the best books to blog about as part of #TeamOrenda
It might sound overtly dark to blend a Private Investigation firm with a Funeral Directors – but or those of us who know, that’s where Doug Johnstone’s genius kicks in. Life with Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah is never dull and whilst this could absolutely be read as a stand-alone, the fact that I was already so invested in the lives and experiences of these three women added a whole other dimension of enjoyment for me – it feeels like being reuniuted with old friends after a long time apart and it’s plain to see why Doug remains such a favourite with all the Orenda bloggers, both old and new.
As ever, life for the Skelfs is never dull and it’s one of the things that I love about Doug Johnstone’s writing that we manage to be just as caught up and interested in all of the stories, rather than waiting to return to the ‘main one’ when we are away from it – as can be the case for so many crime writers. I was totally engaged with the discovery of a dismembered foot, communication from outer space and a wild beast on the loose and was remonde of what sets Doug apart from other more predictable amd generic crime writers. The reemergence of Jenny’s deranged ex-husband adds another layer of tension and is one of the many aspects of this novel that are just superbly written and keeps you on your toes amidst alll of the other elements that are unfolding around you in this darkly addictive series. I am vowing to keep this spoiler free so I’ll just say that you definitely need to make space on your own TBR to meet the Beast of Bruntsfield for yourself. Life for Dorothy Hannah and Jenny is as far from dull as it’s possible to be and in this third episode of their adventures, you’ll move from tears to gasps of disbelief and from laughing out loud to being on the edge of your seat. I am still thinking about the final few pages now and I can’t stop recommending it to fellow crime fans who are after something a bit different.
Doug Johnstone remains one of my very favourite writers as he knows just when to switch from one thread of the story to another that leaves us hungrily turning the pages and forgetting about the time. He never sacrifices character in the name of plot and that’s why time just flies when you’re reading his books. You want to know the answers, yes for sure – but you also want to know how this impacts on the Skelf Sisters themselves because he makes you care. Their lives are complex and three dimensional, their problems are the ones caused by their jobs, of course – but also the problems that we’ve all struggled with in terms of our life choices and our relationships that make them feel like people we know and people who matter to us. I found myself wondering about them as I went through the day whenever I was away from them and for me that is one of the hallmarks of an excellent rather than just enjoyable read.
Johnstone asks us to think about a range of issues in the novel but as ever he writes best about human connections – the way that the people we love affect our lives is superbly handled as he highlights the way that we often are totally unaware of the way that our actions can impact on those closest to us. It’s not just the Skelfs that he brings to life in this way – all of the families in the novel are beautifully written and often it’s the little thing that resonate the most. I have got a real fondness for Dorothy myself and feel like this go getting grandma with a penchant for drumming is a real live person, rather than just a character from a book…
All three Skelf women have their own struggles and I love the way that the extended narrative across the three novels means that I feel like I’ve really got to know them fuly now. They are far greater than the sum of their parts and there are aspects of them all that I connected with -although in this book that it’s Jenny’s issues with her past re-emerging that I’m most drawn to as this is the last thing she needs and the added pressures of work are not helping. I love the way that the three women have all had their ups and downs across this series of novels which makes for a compelling and compassionately written narrative that I thought about often on our driving holiday and talked to Mr Ontheshelf about tem like they were real people that I knew, rather than just people I’d been reading about.
This book will be sure to please Doug Johnstone’s many fans with its intriguing and satisfying blend of a family saga, some compelling cases and laughter as well as tension It kept me absolutely hooked and I cannot wait for the next instalment. This year hasn’t been an easy one in terms of live book events, – but I am ever-hopeful that once this is all over I can check in and hear him talking to us about the Skelfs to my hearts content. Buy yourself a copy of The Great Silence here and set aside some time to really enjoy it. It’s a perfect summer read with characters you’ll really care about and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a strong contender for my read of the summer and one that I can’t stop thinking about long after laying it down. A solid 10/10 from one of my favorite Scottish writers for his latest instalment in the Selfs saga!
Writer On The Shelf
Doug Johnstone is a writer, musician and journalist based in Edinburgh. His tenth novel, Breakers, was published by Orenda Books in May 2019, and was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. His previous books include The Jump, shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize, Gone Again, an Amazon bestseller, and Hit & Run, which was an Amazon #1 as well as being selected as a prestigious Fiction Uncovered winner. His work has received praise from the likes of Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, William McIlvanney, Megan Abbott and Christopher Brookmyre.
Doug has been Writer in Residence with William Purves Funeral Directors. He is also a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow, and was RLF Fellow at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh 2014-2016. Doug was also Writer in Residence at the University of Strathclyde 2010-2012 and before that worked as a lecturer in creative writing there. He’s had short stories appear in various publications and anthologies, and since 1999 he has worked as a freelance arts journalist, primarily covering music and literature. He is also a manuscript assessor for The Literary Consultancy and Emergents in the Scottish Highlands. He has taught creative writing at festivals and conferences and regularly at Moniack Mhor, and he has mentored aspiring writers for New Writing North and Scottish Book Trust.
Doug is one of the co-founders of the Scotland Writers Football Club, for whom he also puts in a shift in midfield as player-manager. He is also a singer, musician and songwriter in several bands, including Northern Alliance, who have released four albums to critical acclaim, as well as recording an album as a fictional band called The Ossians. Doug has also released three solo EPs. He plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a crime writing supergroup featuring Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre, Stuart Neville and Luca Veste.
Doug has a degree in physics, a PhD in nuclear physics and a diploma in journalism, and worked for four years designing radars. He grew up in Arbroath and lives in Portobello, Edinburgh with his wife and two children.