Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary is a debut novel, but you would never know it from the reading experience. When picking up a book by an unknown author, there really is no way to know if you are going to enjoy it. Certainly, you can read reviews, get recommendations, or try a sample, but until you really sit down and devote time to it, there is no telling if you will connect with the author’s voice, appreciate the characters or get lost in the plot. The best case scenario is when all of these things happen with the same debut novel – that is how you know you will be a fan for life. And that is exactly the kind of book Sarah Hilary has delivered with Someone Else’s Skin.
With the introduction of Detective Inspector Marnie Rome, crime fiction welcomes a new sensitive, yet no-nonsense, protagonist to the fold. Right from the start, readers are on Marnie’s side. Sarah Hilary gives her just the right backstory to engage our sympathies while also giving the character plenty of room to grow and change over the course of the series. Pairing her with the less experienced Noah Jake, who happens to be half-Jamaican, gay, and equally enigmatic will quickly make this crime fighting duo a favorite among readers. Sarah Hilary also populates the inner circle of these two characters with plenty of interesting people with whom they can interact.
At the start of Someone Else’s Skin, Marnie and Noah are headed to a women’s shelter in the hopes of encouraging a victim to testify against her abusive brothers. However, before they get there, another of the residents is involved in a violent encounter. Hope Proctor is the newest victim of domestic violence to enter the safety of this women’s refuge. Somehow, her estranged husband has found a way in – with a knife – and Hope has stabbed him after a struggle. Marnie and Noah quickly get to work, first stabilizing the victim and getting Hope to safety, before beginning the task of interviewing the other residents to determine how such a thing could happen. The only problem is that the five women in the room are all giving different stories. How do you investigate when your only witnesses are traumatized women who have been conditioned to lie and/or acquiesce? Forced to tread lightly, DI Rome and DS Jake find their hands repeatedly tied by bureaucratic red tape.
What follows is a surprising complex narrative which Sarah Hilary manages to unravel at just the right pace. There are some nice twists that alter reader’s perceptions of various events or explanations at critical junctures within the plot. Reaching into the past of multiple characters, Hilary succeeds in ripping back the curtain on suburban life and exposing the realities of some lives; reminding us that we can never know what is going on behind the closed doors around us. Given the subject matter – domestic violence – readers should be aware that Sarah Hilary does not shy away from representing some of the darkest sides of human nature. While they are never gratuitous, her descriptions of some horrific things do push the envelope at times and may not be right for everyone.
In the end, I always come back to character. Marnie Rome is a character I can’t wait to visit with again. She and Noah are unique, realistic, and above all, honorable people. Sarah Hilary has laid some groundwork with Someone Else’s Skin that promises great things for this Detective Inspector and her team in the future.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.