A Dark Matter (Skelf 1) by Doug Johnstone

SHORTLISTED for the McIlvanney prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year.

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.

My thoughts

This is the first book in the Skelf series and introduces us to the three main protagonists – Jenny, Hannah and Dorothy.

Each chapter is headed up with one of their names so we always know who is speaking, from what point of view the story is being told.

Dorothy is the mother of Jenny and grandmother of Hannah. Her life has fallen apart with the death of her husband and things are about to get worse as, when she is inevitably going through paper work, she stumbles across some information that will upend all she has believed was true in her world.

Jenny’s life was already beginning to fall apart and the death of her father has brought not only grief but a dilemma or perhaps it’s the answer to what she needs to do, should do. She also delivers one of the best first lines of a book – a line that is dark, troubling, kind of ghoulishly funny when you realise what is actually happening – it sets the tone for the rest of the book.

Hannah lives with Indy. She is a very bright student whilst Indy is building a career with the Skelf family firm. Although young they have that kind of naive good sense that makes for a wisdom beyond their years. They are a great partnership.

The family firm is actually two businesses which operate from the family home – an undertakers and a detective agency. A somewhat strange but unique setting, as far as I am aware, for a crime fiction book and yet it lends itself very well to the troubled side of life. It also adds to the sense of a suspension in reality, of disbelief if you will, that seems to be needed on occasion. A strangeness that has in some sad ways become a way of life in 2020!

There are supporting male characters – Jim, Dorothy’s deceased husband; Archie who works in the funeral directors, has a rather unusual experience of living and holds the key to a secret which loyalty prevents him from disclosing even when it comes to some rather ridiculously funny actions that take place in the story! Then we have Craig he is Hannah’s father and Jenny’s ex. Lastly we have Schrödinger – he’s the family cat.

This is a book about mysteries – the disappearance of Mel, Hannah and Indy’s flatmate; the investigation into a husband who it seems is being unfaithful and the mystery surrounding Jim. We follow each of our main protagonists – Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah – as they investigate. Uncovering more than any of them would have wished to find out and leading them into harms way from a person who they would never have suspected.

It is also a book about relationships between the three women and their relationships with Jim, Indy, Archie, Craig – how they grieve over Jim but also of their other relationships and how they begin to rebuild.

I really liked all these characters and although at times things get a bit surreal I enjoyed the book. It has built the foundation for what, hopefully, will become a series going from strength to strength.

Book: Purchased

This was the book club read for October. For all information about the Virtual Crime Book Club visit The Virtual Crime Book Club where you will find links to our zoom meetings, how to sign up and much more.

#TeamOrenda – being part of the book love.

#Orentober originated with Kelly FromBelgiumWithBookLove and Danielle TheReadingCloset who got together to acknowledge, support and celebrate a wonderful independent publisher – – Orenda Books and its fantastic collection of books!

Do visit both these blogs to fully explore what #Orentober is all about. Don’t be afraid to join the fun and celebrate all things Orenda Books related during October – just add the hashtag #Orentober.

If you’re looking for something to read to celebrate Orentober month any Orenda title would be a great choice. I would certainly recommend any of those I have read, just pop ‘Orenda’ in the search facility and browse away.



Congratulations on a well deserved win to Karen and the team at Orenda Books.


Publisher: Orenda Books (eBook 23 Nov 2019; Paperback 23 Jan 2020)

Buy: Your local bookshop|AmazonSmileUK |Waterstones

Bloody Scotland

Bloody Scotland the Scottish International Crime Writing Festival established in 2012 with acclaimed writers Lin Anderson and Alex Gray at the helm it is set in Stirling. It is a relaxed literary festival where you can find yourself enjoying a drink at the bar with your favourite crime writer. Well in most years!

An entertaining as well as informative event it takes place during a weekend in September, covering a range of criminal subjects from fictional forensics, psychological thrillers, tartan noir, cosy crime and with an international focus at it’s heart Bloody Scotland always brings in crime writing talent from outside of Scotland as well.

Sadly missed this year as the event, like so many could only take place on-line, but still managed a visit to Stirling – it was quite surreal being there yet only able to watch virtually. I look forward to September 2021 when, hopefully, Bloody Scotland will be back for real to celebrate it’s 10th Anniversary and we are all able once again to go to some memorable events.

Here are some photo memories of my visit to Bloody Scotland in 2018.


You’ve just a few days left to view the catch up videos from Bloody Scotland 2020! Don’t miss Ian Rankin, Lawrence Block, Val McDermid, Lee Child, Sue Black, Jeffery Deaver and loads, LOADS more.

View now 👉 📺 https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLaZgeYYd3QV-l5I0sYjGOVVMjnHY5LaF_

Find out more about the The McIlvanney Prize Bloody Scotland’s annual prize awarded to the best Scottish Crime book of the year.


Photo by Duncan McGlynn

Doug Johnstone is the author of ten novels, most recently Breakers (2018), which was longlisted 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, 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.

Follow Doug on Twitter @doug_johnstone and visit his website: dougjohnstone.com.



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