I read a lot of crime fiction. As much as I enjoy it, there is a set formula that most books follow:
Flawed hero with loyal sidekick investigate murder.
Plot twists, usually comprising more murders, a few red herrings and (increasingly often) some X-rated sex and/or violence to spice things up.
Flawed hero solves murder(s), quite often with threat to life or property of loyal sidekick.
Sarah Hilary’s Someone Else’s Skin offers the jaded crime fiction fan something a little different. While we still have the flawed hero (DCI Marnie Rome, a detective still suffering from the murder of her parents several years previously) and loyal sidekick (DS Noah Jake), there is actually no murder. Yes, you read that correctly. Not a sexually motivated sadistic serial killer in sight. No mysterious clues pointing to a specific childhood trauma or obscure mental illness. No totems, cannibals or bizarre modus operandi. It is almost like the book takes place in the real world.
We join Marnie and Noah as they head to a women’s refuge in London to interview Ayana, a woman they hope can provide a witness statement to help convict her brother of a violent assault. They arrive to find the door strangely unlocked and a stillness settled upon the building, like everyone in it is holding their breath. Then, a scream. They rush into the day room to find a large man bleeding on the floor from a serious knife wound to the chest and his tiny wife Hope standing over him with a knife. The women in the room, already traumatised enough to have fled to the refuge, all tell the same story: Hope was defending herself from her husband, who had managed to track her down and force his way into the building somehow. So we have a crime and know straight away whodunit – what else is there to sustain the 400-odd pages of the novel? I was wondering that until Hope disappears from hospital with another woman from the refuge, and things begin to not be as they first seemed.
The publishers have tipped this book as being a break out crime novel for 2014, something that will appeal to fans of Val McDermid (which I am). Admittedly I did wonder why to begin with (where is the body count?), but this is something of a slow burner. The more I read, the more I began to enjoy the plot and the way it confounded my expectations, and although it swung back towards typical in the final few chapters, overall it was a more novel crime novel then many you will read. Was it like McDermid’s books? Well no, not really. Will it be a break out for Sarah Hilary this year? It wouldn’t surprise me if it did. Anyone wanting a maturely written crime story without the 18 certificate could do a lot worse then read this.
Recommended – if this is a debut novel, then Hilary has a promising career ahead of her.
Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary
Published by Headline, paperback, February 2014
With thanks to the publisher for providing me with this review copy.
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