The Bleeding

1899, Belle Époque Paris. Lucienne’s two daughters are believed dead when her mansion burns to the ground, but she is certain that her girls are still alive and embarks on a journey into the depths of the spiritualist community to find them.

1949, Post-War Québec. Teenager Lina’s father has died in the French Resistance, and as she struggles to fit in at school, her mother introduces her to an elderly woman at the asylum where she works, changing Lina’s life in the darkest way imaginable.

2002, Québec. A former schoolteacher is accused of brutally stabbing her husband – a famous university professor – to death. Detective Maxine Grant, who has recently lost her own husband and is parenting a teenager and a new baby single-handedly, takes on the investigation.

Under enormous personal pressure, Maxine makes a series of macabre discoveries that link directly to historical cases involving black magic and murder, secret societies and spiritism … and women at breaking point, who will stop at nothing to protect the ones they love…

Queen of French Noir, Johana Gustawsson returns with a spell-binding, dazzlingly dark gothic thriller that swings from Belle Époque France to 21st-century Quebec, with an extraordinary mystery at its heart…

For fans of Laura Purcell, Elizabeth Macneal, Bridget Collins, Anna Mazzola, Ambrose Parry and Laura Shepherd-Robinson

I was so excited to receive this book for two reasons: the first being that I absolutely adored Block 46 and Keeper – and I could not wait to experience Johana’s writing in a more gothic style which could not be more perfect for my autumn break in Argyll. I adore her series featuring Emily Roy and Alexis Castells and was absolutely blown away by this new direction in her writing. Don’t you just love it when writers you adore start a whole new series? And when the series is as good as this, it is absolutely worth blocking out some uninterrupted time and absolutely immersing yourself in this wonderfully-realised fictional world.

The other reason that I was so excited to read The Bleeding is that for as long as I can remember, I’ve absolutely loved books that move between different times, places and settings. From 1899 to 1949 and finally to 2002, you get to follow Maxine’s journey into the dark heart of this story and uncover the way tht all three intertwined timelines unite in an unforgettable and heart-stopping read. When I heard that Johana’s new book was a gothic tale, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and I can tell you that I read it straight through without stopping. Even though I am on holiday right now in my new home in Argyll, The Bleeding transported me to these very different times and places and I got absolutely lost in its twisty depths…

Johana Gustawsson has a unique talent for carrying her readers with her on her exploration of the human psyche and this carries on into the gothic masterpiece that is The Bleeding. Whether you are in Paris or Quebec and whether you are immersed in the twenty-first century or transported back to the beauty and dangers of the Belle Epoque, she doesn’t shy away from shocking and disturbing the reader and her books are definitely not for the faint-hearted. Where other writers might hint or allude, Johana brings her stories brilliantly to life, so vividly that you just won’t be able to look away.

Once more, in trademark Gustawson style, we have three very different narratives going on simultaneously, which allows us to see the world from three very different perspectives – we have the contrast between the past and the present as well as the switching of locations, which makes for an intriguing read that really keeps the pace up and makes sure that the reader is permanently on their toes, turning the pages as we are transported across locations and timelines. Despite the fact that these three women’s lives appear very different on the surface, as you read you’ll become aware of the way they connect and intersect and your admiration for the skill with which their stories interleave with one another will increase tenfold.

I absolutely loved The Bleeding. I am committed to no spoilers, so this was a really difficult task as I really want you to have the same experience as I did whilst lost in this fabulous and immersive read. Whether you get caught up in the story of Lucienne, Lina or Maxine, I’m sure you will agree that the three of them are hiding as much as they are giving away and the way that they chooose to shape their narratives will really keep you on your toes. The international flavour of Gustawson’s novels is something that I’ve really grown to love and I can’t wait to see where she gors next with her writing. This is not a read for the faint of heart: it doesn’t skim over the way that darkness can visibly manifest itself and be unleashed where you are least expecting it. Gustawson is skilled at making the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and literally catch your breath as you re-read in horror what you’ve just been exposed to – and I can’t get enough of her writing. You’ll maybe be like me and read the ending over again once you’ve finished – it really is that good. But why don’t you buy yourself a copy and see for yourself…

The Bleeding is a bit like my very favourite artisan gins: full of diverse ingredients, expertly blended into an addictive, complex, and delightfully sophisticated treat. I’m an addict and I am really looking forward to seeing where she takes us next. If for some reason, you’ve not read any of her other novels why not? If you like dark fiction, fabulous characterisation and a unique take on the way that past evils can spill into the present day then you’ll be an absolute convert.

Thank you so much to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for the invitation – yet another wonderful writer that I might never have discovered if I hadn’t started blogging. I love reading such an eclectic range of books on my blogging adventures and can’t wait to tell you about the next few reads on my horizon…

Praise for The Bleeding

‘Intriguingly dark and vivid, and so cleverly told through three different time frames’ Essie Fox

‘A wonderfully dark, intricately woven historical thriller spanning three generations … it will have you hooked from the very first page’ B A Paris

‘This novel is a whirlpool that draws you irresistibly into levels of darkness so much deeper than you can possibly be ready for’ Chris Brookmyre

Writer on the Shelf

johana-photo.jpeg Born in 1978 in Marseille and with a degree in political science, Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French press and television. She married a Swede and now lives in London. She was the co-author of a bestseller, On se retrouvera, published by Fayard Noir in France, whose television adaptation drew over 7 million viewers in June 2015#TeamOrenda have produced a series of amazing blog posts about this novel and if you haven’t read them already then you’re in for a treat. Check out the #BlogTour poster to see who else is creating the #FrenchNoir buzz around Keeper
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Black Hearts – Death is Just the Beginning

Black Hearts

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…

“Johnstone is fast becoming the toast of the gritty and funny Tartan noir scene. And with good cause. . . . It keeps you hungry from page to page. A crime reader can’t ask for anything more.” —The Sun

“This is a must for those seeking strong, authentic, intelligent female protagonists.” —Publishers Weekly starred review on The Big Chill

‘Emotionally complex, richly layered and darkly funny. An addictive blend ofCase Histories and Six Feet Under.’ Chris Brookmyre, author, Places in the Darkness onA Dark Matter

“I’d say that A Dark Matter showcases a writer at the peak of his powers, except that with every book, Doug Johnstone just gets better.’ Val McDermid on A Dark Matter

“I was addicted from the first page; gripping, gritty and darkly funny as hell.” Erin Kelly, author, He Said/She Saidon A Dark Matter

“This is their third outing and the stories get better each time. . . . Told with a wry humour and affection, the novel underlines just how accomplished Johnstone has become.” —Daily Mail

“Domestic noir at its finest, with shrewd observation, warmth and darkly comic undertones.” —Herald Scotland

Each time I swear that I’ve read the best Doug Johnstone yet, I’m always proven wrong and Black Hearts is no exception. When you love Scottish Crime Fiction as much as I do, there’s a great deal of stiff competition for the coveted title of a ‘five star read’ – yet this book kicks all competition to the kerb once again and ably demonstrates why I love his books so very much

I’ve been waiting for book four of this fantastic series ever since I finished The Great Silence 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. Getting back to school and settling into the autumn term always makes me turn to crime fiction and I love a dark read once the nights start to shorten. I literally flew through this book in three days and could not wait to get my thoughts down on paper. But the one thing I’m finding harder and harder as this series unfolds is to articulate just how good each successive book is and how much they stand out – even in such a very strong field…

For all those who love The Skelfs, it’s undeniable that life with Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah is never dull. Picking up the latest installment feels like being reunited with old friends and it’s plain to see why Doug remains such a favourite with all the Orenda bloggers, both old and new. The genius in his writing is that even though we are plunged into ever more complicated scenarios in each successive read, it always feels believable due to the relationship we’ve forged with the characters and the familiarity we feel when we walk the streets of Edinburgh alongside them and experience the twists and turns of a family business like no other…

Reading book four, I got absolutely engrossed in the intertwined tales and loved feeling like my understanding of the Skelfs’ back stories only magnified the way that their individual situations resonated with me. Doug Johnstone’s deft handling of big ideas such as grief, loss and trauma really do set this series apart from rival series that focus so heavily on plot that your emotional engagement with the unfolding narrative just can’t be as strong or sincere. I am vowing to keep this spoiler free so I’ll stop myself from explaining just why I found Udo’s story so fascinating and thought-provoking – I’ll just say that I’m sure that you’ll find the discussion of the wind phone as compelling as I did. I am still thinking about the final few pages now and parting from these characters definitely gets harder every time.

pink and white flowers

Doug Johnstone remains one of my very favourite writers as he understands the precise balance between mystery and tension and everyday ordinary conversations and that’s why his writing is so very satisfying. He never sacrifices character in the name of plot and that’s why we’ve become such dedicated Skelf fans. You want to get to the bottom of the cases they are unraveling, but you care just as much about them as people as you do about how the loose ends will be tied up. Their lives are complex and three-dimensional, their problems are the ones caused by their challenging 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 often think of them, even when I’m not reading about them – as they’ve come to feel like friends rather than just characters I’ve read about and that’s why I love them so much.

Johnstone 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 things that resonate the most honestly. Dorothy remains my favourite Skelf and I think it’s a tribute to her name that she has very definitely got under my skin and I think of her often when I’m walking in Edinburgh, like she’s someone I could literally bump into and strike up a conversation with about Thomas and their relationship – or Jenny and Hannah’s troubles

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 Hannah’s stalker and its impact on her relationship that I’m most compelled by – as this is the last thing she needs and you can see its impact on her relationship with Indy. I love the way that the three women have all had their sorrows to seek, and their different ways of dealing with challenging situations makes them spring off the page and inhabit your thoughts, long after you’ve finished reading about them.

This book will be sure to please Doug Johnstone’s many fans with its satisfying blend of family drama, compelling cases and heartache as well as thought-provoking philosophical ideas about loss and grief.  Buy yourself a copy of Black Hearts and set aside some time to really enjoy it. It’s a perfect Autumn read I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a strong contender for my read of the year and one that I can’t stop thinking about. I made sure that it was included in my Autumn Book Club and I know it will be a big hit with my 17 Degrees readers too. It’s an absolute 10/10 from me for one of my favorite Scottish writers. If you haven’t met the Skelfs yet, it’s high time you did, they’re definitely a family you’ll not forget in a hurry…

‘The Skelfs keep getting better and better. Compelling and compassionate characters, with a dash of physics and philosophy thrown in’ Ambrose Parry

‘Expertly written, with poise, insight and compassion’ Mary Paulson-Ellis

’If you loved Iain Banks, you’ll devour the Skelfs series’ Erin Kelly

‘Dynamic and poignant … Johnstone balances the cosmos, music, death and life, and wraps it all in a compelling mystery’ Marni Graff

‘Just when you thought you couldn’t love the Skelfs more, Doug Johnstone finds a way to turn up the heat’ Live & Deadly

Praise for The Skelfs series

***Shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Best Scottish Crime Book of the Year***
***Longlisted for Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year***
***Shortlisted for Amazon Publishing Capital Crime Thriller of the Year***


‘An engrossing and beautifully written tale that bears all the Doug Johnstone hallmarks in its warmth and darkly comic undertones’ Herald Scotland

‘Gripping and blackly humorous’ Observer

‘A tense ride strong, believable characters’ Kerry Hudson, Big Issue

‘The power of this book, though, lies in the warm personalities and dark humour of the Skelfs, and by the end readers will be just as interested in their relationships with each other as the mysteries they are trying to solve’ Scotsman

‘Remarkable’ Sunday Times

Writer On The Shelf

Doug Johnstone

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.