Violated corpses and many other nasty things keep surfacing at smartly timed intervals in this high-octane thriller from Hayder (Ritual, 2008, etc.)
The popular British author reteams serial characters Jack Caffery, a Major Crimes Unit detective burdened with a personal history of loss that would turn the stomach of Hannibal Lecter, and police diver Phoebe “Flea” Marley, herself bedeviled by the known and suspected misdeeds of her wretched black-sheep brother. In the countryside around Bristol and nearby flood plains, a grisly series of suicides and/or murders exfoliates from two puzzling cases: the disappearance of a famous footballer’s cocaine-addicted wife; and the killings, accompanied by horrific mutilations, apparently connected to a sinister Tanzanian immigrant and African black magic that makes unspeakable use of human tissue. Hayder’s skillful juxtapositions keep the plots at full boil as they gradually intersect and separate again, and the narrative texture is enriched by vivid cameo appearances (a tough-talking female pathologist makes an especially lively one). Old friends and enemies from earlier books also drop in, notably the Walking Man, vengeful father of a murder victim, who contributes this cryptic advice to Caffery: “If you stop looking for death, death will stop sending its handmaidens to find you.” A plethora of forensic detail—Hayder’s grasp of which rivals P.D. James’—and a more-than-fair amount of contrivance make the narrative stutter and stall awkwardly at times. But the author knows her business and her readership, and Skin stretches itself out quite cleverly enough to provide several hours’ worth of agreeably lurid entertainment. Hayder has created conscientious and valiant figures in Marley and Caffery, whose disturbing human failings have the paradoxical effect of making readers trust and root for them.
Nice work once again from one of the most dependable pros in the murder business.