cover image The Big Chill

The Big Chill

Doug Johnstone. Orenda (IPG, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-913193-34-8

Scottish author Johnstone’s exceptional sequel to 2020’s A Dark Matter focuses on three cases handled by members of the Skelf family, who run a funeral parlor and a private investigation firm in Edinburgh. For the Skelfs, the two businesses offer ways to try “to tell people’s stories, join the dots in their lives, make some sense of the mayhem.” Dorothy, the clan’s 70-year-old matriarch, is trying to locate the next of kin of a homeless man, because the police won’t release his body for burial without an official identification. Jenny, Dorothy’s 45-year-old daughter, is looking for a runaway 14-year-old girl. Hannah, Dorothy’s granddaughter, who’s studying physics at university, is investigating a professor’s death that was ruled a suicide. All three women are being targeted by Jenny’s ex-husband, an accused murderer. Johnstone seamlessly presents their stories with depth, elegance, and a delicate touch of wry humor as they get difficult jobs done with grace and kindness. This is a must for those seeking strong, authentic, intelligent female protagonists. Agent: Philip Patterson, Marjacq Scripts (U.K.). (Mar.)