Good evening all and welcome to my stop on Random Things Tours blog tour for A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone!
The Skelfs are a 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 women, 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…
I have a deep fascination with the death industry. I regularly watch Ask A Mortician on YouTube, I have also read her books about the subject and one of my dreams is to visit the catacombs in Paris. Like my previous review, this is more of an assurance of my sanity and serves as background for what elements I liked from this book.
This book was fascinating and very engaging. One concern of the book is very much routed in the processes of handling the dead and arranging for the treatment of them. The other is routed in the lives of these 3 different generations of the Skelf women. We spend time with all three as they struggle and process their various traumas.
Our changing perspectives between Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah allows a view into each of their lives. There is a focus on the evil of men and the change of climate in the modern day attitude towards women. Johnstone has a fantastic ability to not only write realistic female characters but also allows them to be flawed, almost unlikable. This is something I do actually look for actively in my own reading of all books and this book is the best example I have seen of it outside of SFF.
We have Dorothy, a new widow with a funeral business to run also has to cope with her forever longing to return to her youth in Pismo Beach, CA, while also grappling with the possibility her husband was hiding his own sins. Jenny, mother to Hannah, is a bitter, middle aged divorcee who is struggling with life in general and her own feeling towards men overall. And of course we have Hannah, a queer physics student who is determined to discover the story behind her friend’s disappearance but has to try an maintain her own mental wellness through all the chaos.
The characters were the true bonus for me. I feel like we get a captivating glance at the lives of these three women and how they interact with each other. The death of Jim Skelf truly opens up many wormholes for them all. We see them argue with each other, they all do questionable things but in the end they are the standout of A Dark Matter.
The plot at first had me wondering where it was going to go. There are so many events that pop up within the greater events of the plot and I was wondering how and if they would all be answered. Luckily, they were and in a spectacular fashion. The ending dawned on me seconds before the big reveal happen but that did nothing to prevent my shock and glee at getting such a satisfactory conclusion.
Overall this was a true revelation for me, scattered with some wonderful insights into the death industry and a portrait of a family trying to handle the mess a sudden death will leave. This is a condensed, clever story with a very plain discussion of misogyny over time.
I want to thank Orenda Books and Anne of Random Things Tours for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Doug Johnstone is the author of ten novels, most recently Breakers (2018), which has been shortlisted 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 – including a funeral home – 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.