This the third book in a series (I have not read the other two), but within the first fifteen pages the characters, their relationships to each other and past events are covered in an informative and subtle way. That’s when this preposterous and boisterous book begins.
I use these adjectives not in a negative sense. I’m sure the author would agree.
He has crafted a story that follows three generations of woman that run a family funeral directors in Edinburgh, as well as being private investigators. The story also features a teenage punk-band drummer who has discovered her father is also her grandfather, an escaped Jaguar roaming the meadows, a man being gas lighted by aliens and an ex-husband, who is also a fugitive and murder and finally, there is also a kidnapping. A great skill deployed here is the prose being presented in a simplistic manner. There is a lot going on throughout and it’s a relief not to have a complex structure to dissect also.
I have never read anything like it, especially not in the arena of crime novels. The book is written part soap opera, part crime thriller, part absurdist comedy and part real world horror. All of these elements are brought out through the three main protagonists. Johnstone presents each chapter from the point of view of one of the three.
First there is Dorothy the matriarch of the family, she kicks off the proceedings discovering a severed foot, whilst also looking after a runaway teenager she has taken in and being ponderous over a long life lived. Her daughter Jenny is trying to discover the whereabouts of her ex-husband while recovering from a failed relationship and pining for romance. Then there is her daughter Hannah, who as well as being a P.I and working in a funeral home, is also an Astrophysicist and has just gotten engaged to her girlfriend whilst taking on a case involving aliens.
Sometimes the more poignant moments of connection and discovery between the woman and supporting characters are interrupted by plot, but when on display, are the best moments of the book. The author has a great knack of surreptitiously showing the real world amidst moments of the fantastical. There also seems to be a feeling of missed opportunity of hearing more from the woman’s thoughts and getting to understand their motivations.
Doug Johnstone manages to tell a very, very dense, entertaining and sometimes absurdist story while keeping all the entangled elements in order and the narrative ticking over smoothly. Although exciting in it’s narrative and characters, it suffers at times from too much plot and feels rushed in places. The three lead characters are a delight though and the real reason the pages keep turning.
The Great Silence is out on 19th August 2021, published by Orenda Books