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A Dark Matter

(The Skelfs #1)

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  822 ratings  ·  175 reviews
Three generations of women from the Skelfs family take over the family funeral home and PI businesses in the first book of a taut, gripping 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, daughte
Paperback, 344 pages
Published June 1st 2020 by Orenda Books (first published November 21st 2019)
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Average rating 3.96  · 
Rating details
 ·  822 ratings  ·  175 reviews

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Kim ~ It’s All About the Thrill
Jan 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: blog-tour
So you say you are going to take over the family business...hmmm you sure you can handle that?! A Dark Matter, is in fact dark indeed. Dark in all my favorite ways. It was a gritty, humorous at times read, that was all kinds of wrong. Just read the opening paragraph and you will be hooked! Go ahead and peek, you know you want to.

When Jim Skelf passes away the family business must go on. Except the family business is a "hands on" type of work, one where you can't be afraid to get a little dirt on
May 31, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: murder-mystery
A Dark Matter tells the story of 3 women, grandmother, mother and granddaughter, Dorothy, Jenny, and Hannah, respectively, of the Skelf family. Each is a fully individualized person with her own unique good and bad characteristics. I liked all three, but I was particularly drawn to Dorothy and Hannah.

Dorothy at seventy is in excellent health, but has just lost her husband, Jim, after fifty years of marriage to the seemingly good man. Dorothy and Jim ran a successful funeral home with an investig
Jun 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio
This was great even though it has quite a melancholic and introspective tone, it also has an intense familial feeling of strength and hope.
It is a story of contradictions, death and family; but fundamentally it's a mystery.
All compelling elements in my opinion!
Three generations of one family share their points of view concerning the death of the partriarch, the disappearence of a young student and continuing the family business as funeral directors.
There is an awful lot going on in this story;
We meet the Skelfs on the day that they are saying goodbye to their patriarch, Jim. They are doing this in a somewhat bizarre way. Though they run a funeral home, they are having an illegal funeral pyre in their backyard - as requested by Jim...

Jim's passing greatly affects those he has left behind.  For one thing, the business must go on and the fact that the family are surrounded by death on a daily basis makes the loss of Jim even more poignant.

"Maybe life is just a succession of diversion ta
Linda Strong
They call this a darkly funny mystery/crime fiction. They called it right. Being first in a series, this novel is more character oriented, with suspense coming in farther along in the book.

Three generations from the Skelf's family are involved in the family funeral home business and a PI business. 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.

It's only after they cremat
Rachel Hall
Feb 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Muted execution of a mouth-wateringly original set-up with three generations of one family tackling death & crime.

A Dark Matter introduces the Skelf family and three generations of women whose surname is synonymous with death in the city of Edinburgh. With the family home having doubled as a funeral parlour for the last century and a private investigators for the last decade, wife, daughter and granddaughter are laying patriarch, Jim, to rest in a contrary cremation he explicitly requested. But
Liz Barnsley
Jan 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing

Doug Johnstone’s latest offering is a deliciously dark drama crime mash up featuring the Skelfs, an engaging and quirky family unit that runs a funeral home and private investigator service. It has all the ironic, deep and emotional humour of Six Feet Under with an almost noirish crime undertone that is really engaging.

We get the viewpoint of three generations of Skelf women, each one full of vibrant reality and in turn they take you deep inside the group dynamic that makes up this beautifully r
The Book Review Café
When I picked up A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone, I felt a frisson of excitement, (Breakers one of his previous book is sitting solidly on my list of top reads of 2019) as you are never sure what road the author will take you down, but once again the author has written an impressive book, with remarkable characters. A Dark Matter is certainly different to Breakers but how I loved this book, it’s the first in a series following three generations of Skelf Woman. This is a book that doesn’t fit nea ...more
Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)
Sep 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a spectacular start to a new series! I read a review from a lovely Goodreads friend earlier this year and knew this was one to read sooner rather than later.

The Skelf family has long been the proprietors of a funeral home / private investigator business in Edinburgh. When patriarch Jim dies, three generations of women carry on the businesses: his wife Dorothy, daughter Jenny, and granddaughter Hannah.
Dorothy discovers monthly payments from their account to another woman have been going o
Laura Rash
Feb 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic and truly original whodunnit with three tales going all at once! Loved the characters, the whole premise of this book and hope there are more in a series to come. Many thanks to Orenda for this copy for review.
The Tattooed Book Geek (Drew).
A Dark Matter starts with the funeral of the patriarch of the Skelf family, Jim Skelf, burning, charring and turning him from a man into ashes and dust in the wind. For forty-five years Jim ran Skelf Funeral Directors out of the family home that doubled as the place of business. A decade ago Jim expanded the established family business branching out into a private investigation agency too that also ran out of the family home.

As the matriarch of the Skelf family and surviving her late husband, Do
Miriam Smith (A Mother’s Musings)
3.5 stars

If you’re into dark, edgy and slightly ironically humoured crime drama’s then Doug Johnstone’s ‘A Dark Matter’ is the book for you. I’d never have expected to read a storyline involving a family undertaker’s business that sidelines as a private investigator. However, the author has combined death and crime to produce a decent outing in the first of a new series featuring three generations of strong Scottish women, who take charge of the business after their patriarch dies.
Combining a f
Jan 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
4.5/5 - rounding up for Goodreads!

The Skelfs are a well-known family in Edinburgh. They run a successful, long-established funeral home, as well as a private investigation service. When Jim, the patriarch of the Skelf family passes away, the family businesses are left to his wife, Dorothy, daughter, Jenny, and granddaughter, Hannah.

Hannah is ready to leap head on into both businesses, a decision that is accelerated after her roommate disappears. Jenny isn’t sure where she wants to find herself w
Dec 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I have been so excited about this latest offering by the author. An under takers as well as private investigators, what is not to love? The title couldn’t be anymore perfect for this brilliant read.

The story alternates in chapters between the three main characters, Dorothy the head of the family, Jenny her daughter and Hannah her granddaughter. I love how the author introduces us to these three generations of women. All quite different in character yet all appealing to the reader in their own wa
Melanie’s reads
Well this certainly ticked a lot of my boxes, strong women characters, death which I’ve always had a morbid curiosity with, dark humour and mystery solving. Then to top all that off the missing girl was called Mel. Although if I ever go missing just look in the nearest bookshop.

This book opened with an an absolute belter of a sentence and then didn’t let go. Three generations of Skelf women picking up the pieces and taking on both businesses after Jim dies. Having to speak to the grieving while
Jun 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Loved this darkly comic thriller with strong female characters from three generations of the Skelf family. Dorothy has just lost her husband who ran the family funeral parlour and worked as a private investigator. She and her daughter Jenny take over the business aided by her Granddaughter, Hannah. Hannah is a physics student and I enjoyed the touch of physics here and there!
Looking forward to the next one
Aug 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
The blurb says it all: "... a darkly funny and warm portrait of a family in turmoil". I thoroughly enjoyed the story, while zapping the passages of introspection (-1 star), and loved the 3 generations of strong female characters. What an original setting: a funeral parlour that doubles as a private investigation service! ...more
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
So, where to begin with A Dark Matter, as Doug Johnstone once again shows the complexity and diversity of his writing, making him one of the most accomplished writers in the crime genre at the moment. You genuinely never know where his writing is going to lead you, and always has the power to surprise…

I must confess to not knowing where to start with this one, as this is the book which has come closest to rivalling The Jump my favourite of Johnstone’s books to date. I think for my review I could
A DARK MATTER (The Skelfs #1) is the first thriller novel in the new series by author Doug Johnstone. This is a dark drama crime that featured the Skelf family who run a funeral home and a private investigator business. What a great combination, death and crime and the humour is engaging.

Three generations of women from the Skelfs family take over the family funeral-home and PI businesses in this first dark and funny new series. The Skelfs are a well-known Edinburgh family, proprietors of a long-
Mar 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The title is a fitting one. This dark tale opens with the (illegal) cremation of Jim Skelf in the back garden of the Skelf family home. His wife Dorothy, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah take over the family funeral directors business and the private eye business that goes with it.
So the 3 Skelf women become involved in various investigations which has them checking up on cheating husbands and wives and trying to solve the case of a missing University student who's a friend of Hannah's.
Lel Budge
Jan 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Set in Edinburgh, this starts with a funeral pyre in the garden, just as Jim wanted it, melting feet aside!

It is the story of three women, Dorothy, Jim’s widow, Jenny, their daughter and Hannah, their granddaughter. All grieving, but carrying on with their family business, the Skelf funeral directors and private investigators.

When Hannah and her girlfriend, Indy’s flatmate goes missing she is determined to find out what has happened. Did she really know her friend? And what she finds will be dev
Lisa *OwlBeSatReading*
Jul 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime, mystery
‘Everyone is the main character in their own story, has their own life to lead, full of sorrow and joy, boredom and excitement, life and death’.

3 generations of women.

Matters so dark, some so wrong, but extremely entertaining and humorous.

I’ve gone and found me a new Scottish author who’s back catalogue needs to be investigated!

Highly recommend!
David Harris
Jan 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I'm grateful to Orenda Books for letting me have a free advance e-copy of A Dark Matter.

I loved this book for a number of reasons, not all of which may generalise. First, and this is all me for,




To explain the jargon, I studied physics at Edinburgh (no introduction to the city needed I hope) University from 1986 to 1993 (BSc and PhD, I could think once upon a time) and for most of that period I worked at King's Buildings (KB) and was based in the James Clerk Maxwell Building (JC
Yvonne (It's All About Books)

Finished reading: December 29th 2019

"Everyone is the main character in their own story, has their own life to lead, full of sorrow and joy, boredom and excitement, life and death."

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

(view spoiler)
June F Jamieson
Nov 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Amazing, this book drew me in and kept me wanting to read and read on.
Dawn Marsanne
Mar 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Easy to read and enjoyable with an original setting. Having stayed in the Bruntsfield area of Edinburgh made the book additionally interesting.
I was a little surprised to read a comment on the front cover, saying 'as funny as hell' Where was the humour, I certainly didn't find it!
However, I have a few issues with the book.
What happens in the first chapter is illegal and it is rather unbelievable that a business would take this risk. As is what happens in the last chapter.
Also, there seems to be
The Coycaterpillar Reads
Jan 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The dark sense of Scottish humour has never been utilised to its full potential.  Until now.  A Dark Matter is a multi-layered double entendre that is pushing itself to the surface.  It capitulates the dreich weather, the wounds that get hidden by alcohol but it’s all held up by the innate will of three immensely strong female characters.  They are determined.  They are strong and above all…no-one should try to fuck them over!  Orenda Books is my go-to publisher for crime fiction and when you fi ...more
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Oh my, this is one unique, wonderful and engrossing read. I haven’t read Doug Johnstone before and I didn’t know what to expect of A Dark Matter but I felt intrigued by the synopsis, plus it is published by Orenda Books and so of course it was always going to be something special. And special it is. Boy does Doug write women brilliantly…and plot, dark humour and mystery. It’s all rather brilliant to be honest. Right from the beginning I was gripped by the characters, storyline and writing. He ha ...more
Mar 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Audiobook Version = Death and Sexual Politics!

You have to congratulate Doug Johnstone, what a setup! The marriage of a traditional Scottish funeral directors with all its stiff upper lip decorum with the down and dirty world of private investigation. As it turns out there's actually more similarity between the two than you might expect. And the book gets off to a grimly dark start and definitely it fits into Scottish Noir more than anything else.

The question is whether the story fully exploits t
Michelle Douglas
Nov 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I borrowed this book on a recommendation on my library's website.
It is set in the city where I have lived for over thirty years and the geographical details struck a chord with me.
The book is set in a funeral directors/home of the business.
The owner of the business has recently died and he didn't want a traditional ceremony, so his wife, daughter and granddaughter had a funeral pyre for him in the garden.
Affairs, relationships, guilt, grave digging [not robbing though!], necrophilia, death, l
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Doug Johnstone is a writer, musician and journalist based in Edinburgh. His fourth novel, Hit & Run, is published by Faber and Faber on March 15th 2012. His previous novel, Smokeheads, was published in March 2011, also by Faber. before that he published two novels with Penguin, Tombstoning (2006) and The Ossians (2008), which received praise from the likes of Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin and Christoph ...more

Other books in the series

The Skelfs (3 books)
  • The Big Chill (The Skelfs, #2)
  • The Great Silence (The Skelfs, #3)

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