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27 August 2021

#BlogTour #Review - The Great Silence by Doug Johnstone

The Great Silence (Skelfs, 3)
Doug Johnstone
Orenda Books, 19 August 2021
Available as: PB, 309pp, audio, e
Source: Advance copy 
ISBN(PB): 9781913193836

I'm grateful to Orenda Books for an advance e copy of The Great Silence to consider for review, and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the book's blogtour.

The Great Silence is the third of Johnstone's Skelfs books, wrapping up the storylines to date in another instalment of weirdness with the family of Edinburgh women who do a bit of sleuthing on the side. As such, it could be the series will stop here, although I really hope not.

I love these books for so many reasons. The least of these is that I spent seven happy years in Edinburgh as a student last century, walking the same streets as the Skelfs - and Johnstone fully recreates that time for me. (I used to live around the corner from Warrdender baths, which is mentioned here, and would go there for a swim and a warm up when the flat got too cold). But no, there's more to it than that. There's also that these are very entertaining, very well plotted mysteries, Johnstone's habit being to throw several mysteries at the Skelfs, some minor, some life-or-death, as well threats to them directly, AND funeral business, explored in compassionate, empathetic detail. 

But what grabs me most about these books is their sheer heart, their depiction of three generations of women coming to terms with life, love and friendships. They're not the sort to avoid mistakes - Jenny, mother of Hannah and daughter of Dorothy, is particularly prone to these and in The Great Silence she's bitterly regretting one that she made, looping back up with Craig, her ex, but they own their mistakes, admit them, and seek to overcome them. There are regrets in these books - Jenny laments time past, time when she could party all night - but no regrets for good times and for the positives that came from them. Or indeed the positives that can come from very dark times. Abi, introduced in the previous book, The Big Chill, is trying to overcome some very grim family circumstances. Estranged form her mother and living with the Skelfs, she finds that the past comes back for her in a horrifying way - but is supported by Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah (not forgetting Hannah's girlfriend, Indy).

That heart, and I'll say it, soul, breathes through every page of this book. The mysteries are interesting (messages from aliens? A care worker attending to the very intimate needs of his elderly client? Escaped wild cats!) but it's the little, studied moments that give The Great Silence their character: Dorothy's reflections on her long life and her move from California to Edinburgh, her escape to her drum kit in the attic, Indy's relationship with her parents, the antics of cat Schrödinger and dog Einstein or Hannah. There's so much compassion in Johnstone's depictions, even for the most awful of characters (step forward, Craig).

The Great Silence - and this series in general - therefore manage both to be good, absorbing and escapist fiction but also something deeper and more touching, something very human. I'd strongly recommend them if you haven't read them yet - with a bias to saying, read them all in order, yes, but mostly, READ THEM!

For more information about The Great Silence, see the Orenda Books website here - and also the other stops on the tour, listed in the poster below. 

You can buy your book directly from Orenda, from your local bookshop, or online from Bookshop dot org UK, from Hive Books, Blackwell's, Foyles, WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon.

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