Book Review

The Great Silence – Doug Johnstone

I am welcoming a familiar face back to my blog today, as I join the tour for The Great Silence, book three in Doug Johnstone’s Skelf series. Many thanks to Doug and Orenda Books for providing me with a copy of the book, and to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part.


Keeping on top of the family funeral directors’ and private-investigation business is no easy task for the Skelf women, and when matriarch Dorothy discovers a human foot while walking the dog, a perplexing case presents itself.

Daughter Jenny and grand-daughter Hannah have their hands full too: the mysterious circumstances of a dying women have led them into an unexpected family drama, Hannah’s new astrophysicist colleague claims he’s receiving messages from outer space, and the Skelfs’ teenaged lodger has a devastating experience.

Nothing is clear as the women are immersed ever deeper in their most challenging cases yet. But when the daughter of Jenny’s violent and fugitive ex-husband goes missing without a trace and a wild animal is spotted roaming Edinburgh’s parks, real danger presents itself, and all three Skelfs are in peril.

Taut, dark, warmly funny and unafraid to ask big questions – of us all – The Great Silence is the much-anticipated third instalment in the addictive, unforgettable Skelfs series.



Having read the previous books in the Skelf series, picking up this third book felt a little like returning home after an absence, and despite all the death and danger, the warmth of the kitchen, filled with the Skelf women, both blood and honorary, felt like a big hug in book form. I love the familiarity of a book series such as this where you can really get to know the characters and watch them develop.

Although The Great Silence is a tense thriller in places, and a dark comedy in others, there is a delicate sensitivity to the tone when writing about the funeral parlour side of Skelf life. The Skelfs are women who care deeply about their clients, putting everything else aside to treat them with dignity and respect, and this is one of the things l love most about this series. It would be all too easy to make this side of the business a source of humour, and I think it says a lot about the the author that he has resisted doing this.

Throughout The Great Silence, there is both heartbreak and danger for each of the women, and it was interesting to see their reactions to this, and how they have all changed since the first book. I particularly enjoyed seeing how Abi has grown up, although her role in this book is particularly upsetting. It was also great to see another side to Archie as he assists in one particular aspect of an investigation this time around.

The Great Silence is a gripping thriller, with some real edge of your seat moments, exactly as you would expect from Doug Johnstone, but it is his creation of wonderfully strong yet vulnerable characters that make the Skelf series stand out from all the other thrillers out there. I very much look forward to seeing what scrapes they get themselves into in the next book.


Doug Johnstone is the author of twelve previous novels, most recently The Big Chill (2020). Several of his books have been bestsellers and three, A Dark Matter (2020), Breakers (2019) and The Jump (2015), were shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions over the last decade – including at a funeral parlour ahead of writing A Dark Matter – and has been an arts journalist for over twenty years. Doug is a songwriter and musician with five albums and three solo 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.




Don’t forget to visit the other blogs taking part in the tour to read more about the Skelf women.

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