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by Sarah Hilary
Penguin, August 2015
402 pages
ISBN: 0143126180

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

SOMEONE ELSE'S SKIN consists of a number of mysteries that don't exactly merge but rather complement each other and provide a deep understanding of Detective Inspector Marnie Rome. As a debut and a first in a series, this is a great thing. We have a character we come to know well and care about who will return to us in future books. And we have an author who is able to take many complex threads and weave them together into a tapestry that intrigues.

As the book opens, we are taken back five years in time to the day that Marnie found her parents murdered in their home by their foster son. A few pages later, we are thrust into the present, where Marnie continues to visit their killer in prison despite his lack of remorse. And then, only a few more short pages in, we are witness to a battered woman (Hope) stabbing her husband in a safe house, a place he was never supposed to be. One of the other women in the safe house, Ayana, a Muslim woman who is there to be protected from her family, helps Marnie's colleague save the husband. Setting all of the threads of the plot in motion, Hope, Ayana, and Simone (Hope's best friend from the shelter) all go missing shortly thereafter.

As Marnie and her sidekick, DS Noah Jake, follow the separate threads of Ayana's and Hope and Simone's disappearances, we learn a great deal about the psychology of battered women, as well as about sociopathic motivations and behavior. Marnie's visits to her parents' killer add to that understanding and help make the twists at the end of the book seem plausible, although shocking. We see bullies in action, whether they are men or women, and we see how society and culture can allow them the freedom to operate. The reader faces of the question of when bullying becomes sociopathy.

Hilary takes on some very big issues in this book, and she is successful in making the reader think. At the same time, she does not let up on the suspense, and the book is strong for both reasons. Short chapters, moving forward and backward in time, propel the action. Characterization of both major and minor characters is well developed, and the drabness of the refuge along with its false sense of security for the battered women is portrayed well, supporting both the plot and the sense of life's fragility.

I'm looking forward to seeing how Hilary handles a second outing for Marnie Rome.

Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, April 2015

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