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Wednesday 10 August 2022

‘The Great Silence’ by Doug Johnstone

Published by Orenda Books,
19 August 2021.
ISBN: 978-1-913183-83-6 (PBO)

Present-day Edinburgh, and Dorothy, the matriarch of the redoubtable Skelf tribe, is walking their dog when he brings back a human foot.... embalmed. So where’s the rest of the body? Looking for answers brings her into deadly danger.

This lively thriller returns to the world of the three generations of Skelf women who run a funeral  directors’ business and, simultaneously, a private investigations bureau. The characters are great: Dorothy, still missing her husband of many years, but enjoying new happiness with Thomas, a Black Swedish Edinburgh cop; Dorothy’s daughter Jenny, finding new strength after putting her violent ex-husband behind her, but regretting having given up her lover, Liam; and Jenny’s daughter, Hannah, who’s beginning a PhD in astrophysics. There’s also Hannah’s lover, Indy, who’s having difficulties with her grandparents’ request to exhume and cremate her parents, and Dorothy’s teenage lodger, Abi, who has a nasty discovery about her father in store.

The interactions across the generations are deftly drawn. The story’s told in the third person, with each chapter centred on one of the women, which makes the multiple characters easy to follow, and the short chapters fairly zip the story along – or rather stories, as each woman’s investigating something different. Dorothy’s focused on the foot, including hilarious visits to Edinburgh’s private embalmers. Jenny’s been asked to investigate if an elderly woman’s carer / lover is killing her, and Hannah’s new fellow student in the lab believes he’s receiving messages from aliens. Throw Jenny’s ex-husband and a loose panther into the mix, and you have a crazy rollercoaster of a novel. The Edinburgh background brought back many memories - Johnstone’s achieved quite a different feel from Rankin’s Edinburgh, but it’s equally convincing.

A crowded, bustling riot of a cross between Six Feet Under and Miss Marple, with lively PI protagonists in an Edinburgh background. This is the third of the Skelf novels, and though it read fine as a stand-alone, the characters lead such exciting lives, with their pasts impinging on their present, that I’d recommend starting with the first in the series, A Dark Matter.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Doug Johnstone is a writer, musician and journalist based in Edinburgh. His sixth novel, The Dead Beat, was published by Faber and Faber in May 2014. Gone Again (2013) was an Amazon bestseller and Hit & Run (2012) and was an Amazon #1 as well as being selected as a prestigious Fiction Uncovered winner. Smokeheads (2011) was nominated for the Crimefest Last Laugh Award. Before that Doug published two novels with Penguin, Tombstoning (2006) and The Ossians (2008). His work has received praise from the likes of Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin, William McIlvanney, Megan Abbott and Christopher Brookmyre. Doug is 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 released his debut solo EP, 'Keep It Afloat', in 2011.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Click on the title to read a review of her recent book
A Shetland Winter Mystery

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