Skin Hardcover – Jan 2010
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Top Customer Reviews
There are other areas of the novel that left me wanting - such as the plot holes and the unbelievable coincidences - but expounding on those areas risks ruining the story for others. So I'll draw my review to a close here.
Mo Hayder is a great author and has some fantastic novels out there. Unfortunately, this is not one of them. Take a pass on this one.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
To add to the thrills, Hayder throws in a particularly dark figure, a surgeon obsessed with collecting the skin of female patients. Although his connection to recent events seems remote, eventually the focus turns to the surgeon's rural home and an ethical conundrum for Caffrey. Meanwhile, Flea has her own ethical issues, caught in an increasingly difficult situation and an uncomfortable contretemps with the brother who got her into trouble in the last novel. On parallel tracks, both cases are fascinating, bizarre and gruesome, Hayder never flinching from the details of human depravity and the methodology of serial murders. As their paths converge in a shocking ending, the author proves once again her genius when it comes to the dark side. DI Caffrey and Sergeant Marley are certain to meet again in another explosive adventure, but Hayder will surely line the trail with a series of gruesome details.
The thriller is Hayder's genre, a clever juxtaposition of regular police investigation with the realities of the autopsy room and the infinite varieties of serial murder, none for the faint of heart. In equal proportions of mystery and gore, the banal takes on a new dimension when a twisted mind is at play- and there is always one behind the scenes in Hayder's work. Like a vampire hunter, Hayder is fearless in the face of human depravity, a connoisseur of the macabre, by definition ever an outrageous experience for loyal fans. Luan Gaines/2009.
For starters, no one will be able to follow this book if they haven't read Ritual (also not very good, though). There is simply too much you have to accept as given without the events of the previous novel. Secondly, even with the previous books to introduce you to the detectives (Caffrey in three, Markey in one), it's very hard to accept them as "the good guys." They don't draw much sympathy, and there are enough real good guys around (Markey's colleagues, Caffrey's pathologist) that we wonder why we should care about these two.
Next, one subplot is so revolting that it cannot come to a moral or ethical resolution (and, tellingly, it remains unresolved at the end). Suffice it to say that watching Markey spend most of the novel trying to decide what to do about a dead body in her car's trunk is neither amusing nor terribly interesting. Eventually, the situation develops to a point where we have some sympathy for the detective, but even so the problem remains insoluble and Markey's personal dilemma doesn't feel likely, nor do we identify with her supposedly hard choices.
Finally, there IS no serial killer. Since the other reviews have provided what I consider spoilers, I won't tread too carefully here. While it is true that the killer is collecting skin from victims, the killings themselves are not motivated by this but by the need to cover up his crimes. The killer himself, as another reviewer has mentioned, is something of a letdown, not because he isn't very interesting (I very much appreciate writers like Carol O'Connell, Val McDairmid and Elizabeth George for their insistence that serial killers are not, at bottom, very interesting people), but because finding and apprehending him is such a no-brainer.
And tellingly, the last murder makes absolutely no sense, because it doesn't protect his identity (the victim knows nothing about his crimes) and he doesn't violate the corpse. The victim is actually killed by Hayder in a bold-faced act of deus ex machina. Which she then reverses -- the cheapest of fictional ploys, in my view.
Hayder may have spent her capital in three excellent books. All three depend for their effect on a horrific and persuasive look at humankind at their worst. That's not much of an achievement; what made the books memorable was that she did this from a moral perspective that was completely free of sensationalism and titillation. Things went off the tracks with Pig Island, which kept the horror, lost the objectivity, and wallowed a bit in perversity. There was a lesson to learn from Thomas Harris' rapid degeneration into his own nastiness, and Hayder missed it. Ritual and Skin are headed in the right direction, but what appears to be left, now that the dust is settling, is neither compelling nor illuminating.
I'll probably read the next book in the Ritual/Skin trilogy, just to see what happens to Markey. But if that book leaves me hanging, I'll let go.
I'll give the author credit: "Skin" is definitely a page-turner, just like all of her previous books. But compared to "Birdman" and "The Treatment" (both excellent), this new novel is ... well, rather tepid. The abovementioned villain ultimately comes off as a bit pathetic and certainly not fleshed out very well. Along the way are a couple of subplots, one involving one of Jack Caffery's colleagues and the mess her brother has gotten himself into, and the other involving that weird little ape-man, the Tokoloshe, featured in Mo Hayder's previous book, "Ritual."
For readers who have never immersed themselves in the pungent charms of one of Ms. Hayder's novels, "Skin" is not the place to start, especially since the story begins just a few days after the conclusion of "Ritual." Instead, read "Birdman" and then "The Treatment." And if that's all you ever experience by Ms. Hayder, you can consider yourself thoroughly entertained. Compared to those first two works, "Skin" was disappointing. I'm being generous by giving it three stars.
DI Caffery is engaged in two separate investigations which somehow become intertwined with an escapade in which Flea is involved. As a result, he has to weigh whether or not to expose Flea's efforts or to keep silent. One case involves a series of strange deaths, initially thought to be suicides, although Caffery believes them to be murders. Another has to do with a missing person, a woman who may or may not also be such a victim, but no body has been found.
Marley is a police diver and the descriptions of her efforts, especially in the opening scene, are especially gripping, as Flea is seeking the body of the MisPer in a flooded quarry, diving deeper and deeper beyond recommended depths and apparently seeing a supernatural sight. Both she and Caffery think there is a "Tokoloshe" in the area, a creature out of African witchcraft.
This sequel is so tightly written and absorbing one can hope that the author can follow up with more such unusual efforts in the future. Recommended.
Therefore I can't comment on whether I'd have liked or 'understood' the characters and plot more if I had done, but unlike some authors, Hayder doesn't refer to her characters previous cases or pasts enough to make you feel you've missed something.
The first half of the book I really enjoyed, with two main plots which ran side by side and intertwined towards the end, but the African witchcraft and 'Walking Man' just confused things and the Walking Man especially made me wonder if someone had slipped me some drugs when I wasn't looking.
Although DI Jack Caffrey and Sergeant Flea Marley were likeable enough characters I didn't feel I got to know either of them very well. Some of their actions were certainly less than credible but I would still like to find out how they develop both professionally and privately in further books.