Break the Skin
Lee Martin
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Buy *Break the Skin* by Lee Martin online

Break the Skin
Lee Martin
288 pages
June 2011
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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In this provocative and unusual story, Martin’s fluid, lyrical prose is oddly juxtaposed against a dark tale of jealousy, murder and black magic where emotions spiral out of control and small deceits turn bigger. Laney Volk has a beautiful singing voice, but she just can’t take the pressure of meeting her mother’s expectations, which always seem to be beyond her reach.

Laney has been working at the local Wal-Mart; it seems like something she can handle while she figures out what she wants to do with her life. As she assists at the checkout counter, we learn from the first narrative voice that something terrible has happened when two Mt. Gilead police officers - one tall and slope-shouldered, the other big-bellied - come for her in the middle of the night.

Nineteen and far from the girl she had always been, “as ordinary as bread from the wrapper,” Laney is questioned by the police about her best friend, Delilah, and the gun thought to be in her possession. The pretty one, with the curve of her hips and the ash-blond hair, Delilah’s desperate ache for a last chance at love eventually leads Laney to clash with beautiful Rose, their one-time roommate.

Laney doesn’t think twice when Delilah asks her to move in with her at the Shady Acres Trailer Park. Later, Rose joins them, the three forming a "sisterhood of lonely hearts." But as Martin’s tale of treachery gently unfolds in a series of carefully calculated flashbacks, Delilah becomes unglued, convinced that Rose is out to hurt her. Rose has cast the first spell, a spell for love and a whisper of promise, the first mistake in the chain of events that will soon follow.

At first the spell works, bringing Tweet into Delilah’s life. Playing gigs at clubs while he waits for his big break, the sexy, talented Tweet entrances all three girls. But Rose has the biggest heart and she sets her sights on him, her sly seductions so different from Delilah's promises to Tweet that she’s “going to rattle his bones.”

Sides are taken, Delilah convinced that Rose is stalking her with a death hex. Rose and Tweet’s relationship becomes the catalyst for the unleashing of Delilah’s pent-up emotions. In a tragic tale of dark revenge and forbidden spells, another pivotal character circles the action, albeit in a different state, with a remarkably similar story of her own.

Betty Ruiz, the loving owner of tattoo parlor in Denton, Texas, is somehow linked to Laney. The connection is simpler than it first appears, especially when a short, bow-legged man wearing a derby hat appears outside her shop with no memory of who he is or where he’s come from. Something about the man makes Betty want to put her arms around him. A woman wise with a tender heart eager for love, Betty takes him back to her house full of winged fairies, where her brother Pablo lies in hiding. On the run from local crime boss Slam Dent, Pablo is yet another desperate character added to the mix.

The ache for human connection lies near the surface, just beneath the skin. Calling the evil spirits forth, Delilah is consumed by jealousy and rage. We watch in horror as the candle wax drips and dissolves in Rose’s name. But Laney, the true victim, echoes most throughout, her life and circumstances a brutal reminder that we are all searching for someone to love and to make us feel less alone.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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