Written by Alison Belsham — When I were a lass, tattoos were just for sailors. Move on X years and they’re the must-have fashion accessory for all and sundry. Crime fiction has dabbled in the area before – David Mark’s Original Skin springs to mind and Sarah Hilary’s Marnie Rome has ink that is an integral part of her back story.
Now meet Marni Mullins, one half of a double act of central characters who are as different as chalk and cheese. Single parent Marni is a talented tattoo artist and upon our first acquaintance she is labouring away in a booth at the Brighton Tattoo Convention. She’s working on a large piece of work for a regular client, but when tiredness creeps in she takes a break and heads for a coffee in the Pavilion Gardens. Who knew a simple beverage could lead to such trouble?
It’s when Marni is disposing of her paper coffee cup in a dumpster that the day takes a nasty turn. In there, part hidden by rubbish, is the body of a man. A man who is missing part of his skin… Marni panics and leaves the scene in a hurry, later relenting and calling the police about her find. But she does it anonymously – there’s something in this woman’s past that she’s trying, desperately, to keep under wraps.
We readers have already met the victim, in a prologue as bloody and disturbing as any I’ve read this past year. It is seen through the eyes of the Tattoo Thief himself, someone who takes pride in doing exemplary work, no matter what level of pain he might be inflicting upon his chosen target. Be warned: this is certainly not a book for the faint hearted and some of the descriptions of what our killer does are stomach churning in their detail.
But who is the second member of our double act? Brand new Detective Inspector Francis Sullivan has to hit the ground running when the murder is dropped in his lap on his first day in the role. He is very young and there’s resentment from others in his team who were passed over for promotion. He also has a boss who wants the case solved quickly… or else.
Francis is a god-fearing, by the book kind of a guy and when Marni is eventually tracked down the pair form a bond of mutual distrust. But Francis is also a copper with good instincts, and he soon realises that Marni’s insider knowledge of the tattooing game could prove hugely helpful. The trouble is, no one else seems to agree.
The fledgling relationship between the pair is at the heart of this hugely engaging read and also offers some moments of light-heartedness amid the gore and gloom of what the Tattoo Thief is up to. For this faceless serial killer strikes again and again, and the police seem no closer to catching him.
The close-knit tattooing industry is finely rendered by author Alison Belsham, offering a tantalising peek into a world which many readers may never have visited before. Her settings evoke a sharp sense of place and it’s great to meet two such original, complicated, likeable and hugely relatable characters in the pages of one book. There are times when the attention to detail goes a step too far perhaps – it’s hard to read when you have your eyes screwed tight shut – but it’s a simple task to skip past those bits and carry on reading. And carry on you must, because there’ll be no rest until this tale is over. Be prepared for nightmares afterwards, though!
Someone Else’s Skin is the place to start with Sarah Hilary’s Marnie Rome.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars