Private investigator Cordelia Gray has been hired by Sir George Ralston to accompany his wife, Clarissa, to Courcy Island, where Clarissa is to star in a play. Cordelia's mission is to keep the persistent poison pen letters away from Clarissa. They've already caused one meltdown on stage and Sir George doesn't want another. Protecting Clarissa from the letters is one thing, but protecting her from death is something else. When Clarissa is discovered murdered prior to the performance, Cordelia's guilt prompts her to help find the killer.
The Skull Beneath the Skin is classic P.J. James, employing the same style as her Dalgleish mysteries, with suspects cloistered in a remote area and plenty of bad blood to go around. However, the primary difference between Gray and Dalgleish novels is the protagonists. Cordelia shares similar traits with Dalgleish in that she's focused, serious, and resourceful, but there's much more. Her youth, emotion, compassion, and doubts are all beautifully displayed through inner monologue that gives readers an intimacy lacking in a Dalgleish novel
Since this isn't a police procedural and James incorporates multiple viewpoints, there is a jarring section from the police POV, which has little to do with Cordelia, and went on too long. Also, as Cordelia searches for a piece of the missing puzzle on the mainland toward the end of the book, she makes a baffling error in judgment by not sharing a key piece if evidence with the police. Still, I enjoyed the book, as Cordelia was a breath of fresh air from the stodgy Dalgleish.