Wednesday 21 September 2022

Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone BLOG TOUR #BlackHearts @doug_johnstone #TheSkelfs @OrendaBooks #BookReview


Death is just the beginning…

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…

Black Hearts by Doug Johnstone is the fourth book in The Skelfs series and is published in paperback by Orenda Books on 29 September 2022. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review as part of this Blog Tour.

For the past four years I've taken a short trip to Edinburgh. I've spent that time with the women of the Skelf family. I've visited burial grounds and police stations, mortuaries and walked the streets of the city. I've met wild animals, and even wilder humans .... and all from the comfort of my own sofa.

Black Hearts is number four in the Skelf series and once again, I've spent a thrilling, often chilling and always emotional time with these three women and their family and colleagues. Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah are three generation of the same family, they are undertakers and they are also private investigators. 

I've never actually been to Edinburgh in real life, but oh my goodness, I do feel as though I know the place very well. The city is a character in itself as the women travel to every area; death and crime do not distinguish between rich and poor, so the reader travels to the most deprived areas, along with the very genteel. 

The Skelfs have a messy and troubled history, and whilst the author is extremely skilled and the back stories are filled in cleverly, I would advise anyone to go back and read the first three books of the series. Not only will you learn more about the women, but you will have hours of reading enjoyment too. 

Dorothy is presiding over the funeral of a middle-aged women when a scuffle breaks out at the graveside. It's a shocking scene that captures the strength of the rest of the book and made me gasp out loud. This author does not hold back, it's a little bit brutal. That fight leads to another job for Dorothy, when the son of the deceased asks her to find his father who disappeared some months ago. 

Meanwhile, Jenny - Dorothy's daughter, is declining into a drunken, sometimes psychotic mess. Events from her recent past have come back to haunt her and she's really having trouble dealing with it, seeking solace in both the bottle, and risky sex. Sometimes it can be difficult to like Jenny at times, the author doesn't give her any slack, but underneath, she's just a woman whose had some pretty crap experiences and needs to work through them. Her choices are questionable at times, but she's a Skelf and made of tough stuff. 

Young Hannah also has issues. She's gained a stalker who is pretty scary, but seems harmless ... at first. 

At its heart, this is a story about grief and how different people deal with their own mourning. The book felt very personal to me, having dealt with the deaths of two of the most important people in my life recently. The wide and varying emotions felt by the characters within this story really helped me to understand my own personal feelings. Over the past few months, I had been questioning myself about my own grieving processes; almost feeling guilty at times that I had so many conflicting feelings. This book, these characters and this author really helped me. 

Doug Johnstone packs a lot into his books. He touches on issues that many authors shy away from, whilst incorporating quite unusual themes too. His cultural references, not just to Scotland, but overseas too are a fine touch, and I especially liked the addition of some Japanese traditions within the story. 

It's always a delight to meet up with the Skelfs once more, they are so relevant and have to deal with so many issues that are often only experienced by females, making life that little bit harder and more difficult than if they were male. 

Whilst Black Hearts is, without doubt, crime fiction at its best, it is also touching and poignant. A story of family strengths, love and community. There's some black humour, a lot of physics and some jaw dropping moments that I didn't see coming at all. Welcome back Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah, I cannot wait to visit you again soon. 

Doug Johnstone is the author of twelve novels, most recently The Great Silence, described as ‘A novel [that] underlines just how accomplished Johnstone has become’ by the Daily Mail.

He has been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year three times, and the Capital Crime Best Independent Voice

The Big Chill was longlisted for Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year.

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.

Twitter @doug_johnstone

Instagram @writerdougj

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