Paperback: 459 pages
Publication Date: 19/11/2009
The one thing I can always claim after reading a Mo Hayder novel is that I will come away with some rather weird and nasty piece of new knowledge. And, within the first page of Skin, I had my new fact – that a healthy male human’s skin weighs somewhere between ten and fifteen kilos. Which is scarily heavy!
This piece of grisly trivia – and the book’s title – would seem to suggest that the novel was about, well, exactly that…skin. But actually, apart from a flayed dog and a few short and creepily mysterious chapters, there is not very much in the first half of the novel to suggest how the title is actually going to fit in to what is on the page before the reader.
That’s not to say that there isn’t anything going on, though! This is a Mo Hayder novel, after all. Within the first few chapters there had already been a number of references to a man who had been partially decapitated with a hacksaw [in the previous novel in the series, Ritual], DI Jack Caffrey had decided that an apparent suicide was anything but [this is a piece of crime fiction, so I’ll let you do the maths on whether he’s right or not!], and a D-list celebrity, Misty Kitson, has gone missing from her rehab centre.
And, to cap it all off, Sergeant Phoebe ‘Flea’ Marley, a police diver and body recovery expert, has a rather large “family problem / secret” that she’s not sure how to handle [I had read the next book in the series, Gone, before reading this novel, so I knew how it was all going to turn out – but that didn’t stop this plot arc from being the most tense and suspenseful part of Skin].
So, there is a lot going on in Skin. But, I would still hold to my claim that the main crime / killer arc of the novel is actually quite a minor player in relation to the narratives that explore Caffrey and Flea’s respective personal dilemmas.
This is certainly not a complaint on my part – I was fascinated to see them evolving – but for someone coming to the series cold, it probably would be quite a confusing novel to start with [and I am quite annoyed with myself for letting myself get sucked into reading the subsequent novel in the series before reading Skin – as this advance knowledge undoubtedly spoiled some of my enjoyment of Skin’s twists].