Thursday, February 28, 2019


SKIN DEEP by Liz Nugent (Penguin, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Cordelia Russell has been living on the French Riviera for twenty-five years, passing herself off as an English socialite. But her luck, and the kindness of strangers, have run out.

The arrival of a visitor from her distant past shocks Cordelia. She reacts violently to the intrusion and flees her flat to spend a drunken night at a glittering party. As dawn breaks she stumbles home through the back streets. Even before she opens her door she can hear the flies buzzing. She did not expect the corpse inside to start decomposing quite so quickly ...

Liz Nugent is a hell of a writer. Fellow reviewers and crime writers whose opinions I really value have been telling me that for a couple of years now, so soon after SKIN DEEP won both the Crime Book of the Year and RTE Radio 1 Listener's Choice prizes at last year's Irish Book Awards, I grabbed it from the TBR mountain and quickly dived in. I'm very glad I did.

Liz Nugent is a hell of writer.

SKIN DEEP is a chilling tale that's not the easiest of reads. Nugent writes beautifully but her main character, Cordelia Russell, goes far beyond unreliable or even unlikable. Candidly, she's rather appalling. Yet still, thanks to Nugent's sublime kills, very compelling.

This is an absorbing read that draws you in even if you feel very little empathy for the main character. Nugent brings both the Mediterranean setting and Cordelia's childhood in Ireland to vivid life, as we follow her twisting and twisted journey from young girl living on a remote island to ageing socialite. Cordelia is the kind of person who leaves chaos and ruin in her wake. But when part of her past comes calling, what will happen? Will she be able to smile and swindle her way through again?

SKIN DEEP is much more of a psychological thriller than a crime novel, though there's dashes of criminal activity throughout. It's a strangely addictive read that pricks at the mind and the emotions. Cordelia is vain, self-absorbed, narcissistic, even cruel, but her journey is a truly fascinating one that I felt compelled to follow from beginning to the book's end. Nugent makes some courageous storytelling choices and this book is likely to stay with you long after you finish.

Liz Nugent is a hell of a writer.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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