Iíve wanted to read The Skin Gods by Richard Montanari since reading a brief synopsis a few months ago. Now that Iíve read it, Iím so glad I did.
Someone is terrorizing Philadelphia, a madman committing murders based on famous
movie murder scenes. Heís filming the murders and splicing his grisly home movies into rental copies of the movie heís recreated.
When a student finds The Actor's (as Philadelphia cops dub him) debut movie, which recreates the famous shower scene in Hitchcock's Psycho, in a video rental store, he immediately takes it to the police.
Here the fun begins. What follows is a murder spree taking place over just a few days. The Actor indulges his
killer hobby while cops set up a special task force to stop him.
This novel is amazing, a 395-page hardback I couldnít put down until Iíd read to the final full stop. Richard Montanari
takes an unusual approach, interspersing third-person narrative with the odd page where The Actor
gives his version of events, almost rambling in his deranged mental state.
The Skin Gods is one of those murder mysteries where you think you know who the villain is, only to realize a few pages later that youíre wrong and itís someone else. Then youíre wrong again. And again. And again. As you read one page, youíre constantly guessing whatís going to happen on the next page; the narrative
is fast-paced with very little padding. Most of the text in this novel is completely relevant to the storyline, and
Montanari's wonderful descriptions bring the book and its characters to life.
The characters are faultless. Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano, main characters in Montanariís first book, The Rosary Girls, have been drafted back to catch The Actor. Initially, Balzano seems too much of a clichťd "woman cop," right down to being a semi-professional boxer. She quickly grew on me, however, and I started to enjoy her clever one-liners and
the body blows designed to make her look tougher in such a macho environment.
Byrne was badly injured during The Rosary Girls investigation. Only now that The Actor has surfaced does he feel he needs to get back into his job to stop more innocents from being killed. He still suffers the effects of his injury, but being a maverick kind of cop, he soon muscles his way into the investigation. Byrne and Balzano gel nicely together. Montanari sidesteps the classic flirty male/female cop partnerships and starts
these two off on a pretty even footing. As the lead female character, I expected Balzano to be swept of her feet by the
Byrne's machismo, but this doesnít happen . She has not only beauty but a brain
that makes her invaluable in finding the killer.
The other notable character is Byrne's profoundly deaf daughter, Colleen. She doesnít appear
often, but take notice of her words (well, signs) and actions; she does have a
pretty important role later on in the novel. She comes across as a well-developed, mature thirteen-year-old
who has been deaf since birth. What she lacks in hearing ability, she more than makes up for in words of wisdom for her (sometimes grouchy) father.
A very likeable character.
I love detective novels, particularly when they revolve around the nasty business of serial killing, and The Skin Gods hit all the right notes for me. Montanari never lets up the pace, with something significant happening on practically every page
- whether itís The Actor finding a new victim or the detectives getting a step closer to catching him
(or not, as the case may be). Fans of the genre, read this book, but beware: youíre going to
face a string of sleepless nights when you find you simply cannot put it down.