Someone Else's Skin by Sarah Hilary
Someone Else’s Skin, the debut novel of Sarah Hilary, was named as the Theakston’s Old Peculier crime novel of the year last week, on the same day I started reading it. It’s a gritty police procedural featuring DI Marnie Rome, a detective haunted by the murder of her parents by her teenage foster brother some years previously.
Someone Else’s Skin takes domestic violence, in all its forms, as a starting point for the mystery that unfolds after a man is stabbed at a women’s refuge. Leo Proctor, the husband of one of the abused women living at the supposed safe house, is stabbed in front of several witnesses by his terrified wife with a knife he has concealed in a bunch of flowers. It seems clear that Hope, whose body bears signs of years of physical and sexual violence, has acted in self-defence and out of sheer terror – but why does she then disappear from hospital after the attack in the company of her apparently stronger, more assured friend Simone? What secrets are the women hiding?
As you’d expect, given the subject matter, Someone Else’s Skin is a dark read – there are some disturbing moments that would not be out of place in a horror novel, although it’s a credit to Sarah Hilary that I found none of the content to be gratuitous. The London setting – grey, rainy, grubby – lends the book a noirish, slightly threatening atmosphere and during the course of the investigation we meet some deeply unpleasant but chillingly plausible characters. The plot itself is full of clever twists and there is no shortage of pace and tension, but one of the things I particularly enjoyed about Someone Else’s Skin is that the mystery comes as much from the psychology of the various characters as it does from the circumstances of the crime plot; Marnie Rome and her team spend more time picking apart suspects’ motives and personalities than they do sifting through physical evidence.
While the standalone plot of Someone Else’s Skin is satisfyingly resolved with no loose ends, a few questions about Marnie, and her parents’ deaths, remain unanswered. However, a second Marnie Rome book has already been published, so I assume Marnie’s intriguing past will be further explored over the course of the series and I suspect this will prove the best way to do it justice. I also suspect that most readers would be delighted to see more of Marnie’s detective sergeant, Noah Jake, and victim support officer Ed Belloc, both of whom are well-drawn characters in their own right.
Someone Else’s Skin is an assured, perceptive, cleverly plotted and frequently outright terrifying debut, with a strong, smart lead in Marnie Rome. If you enjoy the darker realms of contemporary crime fiction, this one is definitely for you.
I’m now off to read the next in the Marnie Rome series, the recently-published No Other Darkness.