Friday, 10 April 2020

BOOK REVIEW: A Dark Matter - Doug Johnstone


Title: A Dark Matter
Author: Doug Johnstone
Publisher: Orenda Books

Following the unexpected death of Jim Skelf, his family take over the dual business; a funeral directors cum private investigators. Three generations of women; the wife, the daughter and the granddaughter, all try to continue as normal. However, when Jim’s wife uncovers a secret that Jim took to his grave, it becomes clear that this can no longer be the case. Full of mystery and intrigue, this crime thriller from award-winning author Doug Johnstone is set to be the first in a new series about the Skelf family.

Johnstone builds suspense beautifully in this novel, constantly switching between the three female characters and their exhilarating discoveries. This method of multiple character view-points helps Johnstone to create a deeper and more realistic world within the novel, as well as creating suspense by smoothly switching between view-points, forcing his audience to wait for the answers to all important cliff-hangers. His female characters are incredibly well written; full of depth and realism. By using this technique of multiple characters, Johnstone allows the novel to contain many plots and subplots, all of which climax simultaneously to produce a heart-racing final few chapters. Johnstone is a master of suspense. The more of this novel that I read, the more I was drawn in and couldn’t put it down. ‘A Dark Matter’ is a book you could easily curl up with and get lost in.

The sombre opening of Johnstone’s crime thriller describes Jim’s somewhat unorthodox funeral, with a gripping opening line, ‘Her dad took much longer to burn than she expected.’ Johnstone clearly knows how to draw a reader in, being somewhat of a veteran author now that he is in the double figures for number of published novels. His 2019 novel, ‘Breakers’, was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Best Crime Book of the Year. Another novel of Johnstone’s entitled ‘Jump’ was also shortlisted for this prize. ‘Hit And Run’, published in 2012, was an Amazon #1 as well as being selected as a Fiction Uncovered Winner. It is clear then, that Johnstone is an accomplished writer in his field, therefore it should come as no surprise that he was a lecturer in creative writing as well as being a writer-in-residence for the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.

Despite the macabre setting and circumstance, Johnstone manages to bring dark and witty humour to this novel, giving the reader permission to laugh in spite of the underlying sadness. And I did laugh out loud on a few occasions whilst engrossed in this novel. This, I believe, is one of the true marks of a great writer, successfully bringing the realism of multiple emotions and feelings into one novel. After all, in life when we experience the death of a loved one, it is not the case that we suspend all laughter and happiness from then on. A real mix of emotions can be found here in Johnstone’s novel.

Johnstone has clearly chosen topics within his novel that he knows a great deal about, having been a writer in residence at a funeral home, living in Edinburgh himself, as well as also sharing a passion for playing the drums with one of the three female protagonists. This works in his favour, allowing his in-depth knowledge to shine through in the novel, creating a sensory and familiar setting.

With the second novel in this series already in the pipeline and entitled ‘The Big Chill’, I sincerely urge you to read ‘A Dark Matter’. It is a novel so full of twists that each chapter will alter the pace and direction of the novel. Some twists you may be able to guess at, but some I can guarantee that you will not. This is a wonderful crime thriller for all ages to enjoy.

Reviewer - Megan Relph

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