Book Reviews

A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone Book Review.


  • A Dark Matter.
  • Doug Johnstone.
  • 300 pages.
  • Thriller / Psychological Thriller / Mystery.
  • My Rating: Hellyeah Book Review.


Book Blurb.

Three generations of women from the Skelfs family take over the family funeral-home and PI businesses in the first book of a taut, page-turning and darkly funny new series. 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.

Book Review.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

A Dark Matter starts with the funeral of the patriarch of the Skelf family, Jim Skelf, burning, charring and turning him from a man into ashes and dust in the wind. For forty-five years Jim ran Skelf Funeral Directors out of the family home that doubled as the place of business. A decade ago Jim expanded the established family business branching out into a private investigation agency too that also ran out of the family home.

As the matriarch of the Skelf family and surviving her late husband, Dorothy takes over running the family businesses in place of the deceased Jim. Dorothy is seventy-years-old, moved from California to Edinburgh for love and had been married to Jim for fifty years. She had worked part-time on-and-off with the business in-between raising their daughter Jenny and teaching drumming but, the funeral parlour was Jim’s and he oversaw and ran the day-to-day running of the business and that of the private investigation agency.

After Jim’s death, Dorothy is going through the accounts when she notices something amiss, payments, money that has been taken out of the business account and paid into another account, the same amount taken out monthly and for a decade paid onto the account of another woman.

The revelation that Jim had been taking money out of the business account, on a monthly basis, over years and paying it into the account of another woman is a betrayal for Dorothy. She has been deceived by her late husband. Along with his death, her whole world has been sundered, she is questioning their time together, questioning the man she loved, loves and is mourning and she needs to know what is the reason for the mysterious payments and why Jim kept them hidden them from her.

On the day of Jim’s funeral Jenny, Dorothy and Jim’s divorced mid-forties daughter loses her job as a journalist and with rent to pay when Dorothy asks her to stay at the family home and help run the businesses she accepts. Jenny who didn’t follow in the footsteps of her father and who hasn’t lived at home in twenty-five years takes on a more prominent role in the private investigation side of the business rather than the funeral parlour side where she does occasionally help out when needed. At a funeral the sister of the deceased comes up to Jenny and enquires about the private investigation agency, asking Jenny to take on a case as she believes that her husband is committing adultery and she wants proof to confront him with.

Hannah, a university student, Jenny’s twenty-year-old daughter and Dorothy’s granddaughter rounds out the trio of Skelf women. Hannah’s fellow university student, flatmate and best friend Mel has gone missing. The police aren’t bothered about her disappearance as she isn’t vulnerable, she is an adult, she can do what she wants and if that includes going off and not telling anyone then that is her choice and it is nothing to do with them. With the police offering no help Hannah takes on the role of private investigator and becomes obsessed with finding out the truth behind Mel’s disappearance.

At the same time as Dorothy is looking into Jim’s past and the mystery woman, Jenny is investigating the adultery case and Hannah is desperately searching for her missing friend life goes on. Both the family businesses are open bringing in new cases to investigate, like the elderly man who thinks that his carer is stealing from him and new funerals to plan and prepare. Edinburgh comes to life as a brooding backdrop to the unfolding story and the family home, the funeral parlour, the casket making, picking up the dead bodies, the embalming of the bodies, the dressing of the bodies, the burial and cremation services and all the behind the scenes details that go into preparing a funeral adds something really different and makes for an original concept and setting.

There is some stellar characterisation with the three Skelf women and depth to the emotions that they display. Each in their own way is strong and there is a resilience to them. They are flawed, they are family, they argue, bicker, disagree and fight but, they love each other, join forces, band together and are there for and help one another when needed. With each of the Skelf women being from a different generation, they see through different eyes, some younger, some older with experiences, life and time changing them and they all have a different perspective and way of looking at things. They deal with death on a daily basis, it is part of their everyday life but, it is the grief of others, not their own and there is a barrier. With the death of Jim that barrier is shattered and they have to deal with their own grief and the pain that consumes them. Jim’s death is an open wound, in time it will heal and it will leave a scar but, at the moment all they can do is carry on and try to cope the best that they can with the loss. During A Dark Matter, the Skelf women go through a torrent of emotions and Johnstone does a stellar job of transferring those emotions onto the page, investing you in and making you care about the trio of characters as they navigate cases, funerals, life, death, grief and try to solve the various mysteries that they have found themselves entwined in.

Johnstone has an engaging writing style that is easy-to-read and flows well. Being the first book in the series the story in A Dark Matter is a mix of both character-driven and story-driven. The foundations are set for the characters so that you are able to get a feel for the Skelf women, their personalities and who they are and, there is also more than enough story included to really sink your teeth into. The story is told through the three POV characters of Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah in short and snappy chapters that swap between the trio and that keep the story moving forward as it builds to its gripping and intense climax.

A Dark Matter is the first in an entertaining and dramatic family crime thriller series, more, please! It is compelling and darkly humorous with enough intrigue and suspense, secrets, lies and revelations to fill a grave.

Purchase A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone.

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16 thoughts on “A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone Book Review.

  1. Great review! I’m hosting a giveaway for a later book in the series (The Big Chill) in July, and though I didn’t have a chance to read it, the premise for the series intrigued me. After reading your review, it sounds like I need to add this series to my tbr list asap!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a fabulous review! In fact, it’s so good – I’ve nicked across and bought the Kindle edition. An investigative agency run by three generations of women from the same family??? What a wonderful dynamic…

    Liked by 1 person

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