A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
DI Marnie Rose has seen horror, both on the job and off it. When she was 28 (five years prior to the action of this novel), her parents were brutally murdered by her foster brother, Stephen, but Rose has carefully avoided the role of victim. She dealt with the tragedy by throwing herself into police work – on a murder squad, no less – and has climbed the ranks quickly and ably.
Someone Else’s Skin, which recently won the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year, makes us question what it means to be a victim. This book is full of victims: not just Rose and her parents, but also Stephen, who at one points suffers an horrific attack in his young offenders institution. However, the main plot line follows the residents of a women’s refuge and the men in their lives. DI Rose and her new partner, Noah Jake, are sent to the refuge to interview a young woman who has been partially blinded by an honour attack carried out by her older brothers. One of the brothers has been accused of attempted murder of a local man, and Ayana’s evidence is crucial. However, when they arrive they walk in on the immediate aftermath of a stabbing. Hope Proctor has stabbed her estranged husband, Leo, who has shown up at the refuge and somehow gained entry. He had brought a kitchen knife with him. Hope is also taken to hospital to be treated for shock, but when it emerges that Leo has survived the stabbing and would make a full recovery, she escapes from the hospital with the help of her refuge friend Simone.
What follows is the pursuit of Hope and Simone, as well as the investigation into the stabbing. Was it self-defense, or did she mean to kill him? The other residents are not necessarily the most reliable witnesses. All except Ayana, who is clear about what she believed happened. Thing is, a few days later, she goes missing from the refuge too.
As well as a fantastic, page-turning story that kept me up well into the night because it wouldn’t let me put it down, this is also a very clever, nuanced novel. The novel is peppered with references to the psychological experiment conducted by Simons and Levin, in which a group of volunteers were asked to watch a basketball game and count the number of passes made by the players. Midway through the game, a man in a huge gorilla costume walks out and waves at the camera. Less than half the volunteers spotted it. (Derren Brown did the same thing at a show of his I saw, incidentally. I didn’t spot the gorilla.) There are a whole host of gorillas-in-the-midst in Someone Else’s Skin, and most of them aren’t spotted by the novel’s characters immediately. Nor me, actually.
It is also a novel that deals with the assumptions we all make sometimes. Assumptions are regularly confounded, covering everything from the aforementioned nature of victimhood to assumptions about race, sexuality, violence, and even what a member of the police might get up to on their nights off. It kept me on my toes throughout, and I thank Hilary for that. The rip-roaring story might have pulled me along at a rate of knots (I read it in two sittings) but it’s vastly more than just another police procedural. I’m not in the least surprised that it won the Theakston’s Prize, and I have already got hold of the second volume of the Marnie Rose series. Long may it continue!
Sarah Hilary: Someone Else’s Skin (London: Headline, 2014). RRP £7.99.