Skin Deep by Antonia Lassa, translated by Jacky Collins

Today is my turn on the blog tour for Skin Deep, a crime novella by Antonia Lassa translated from the Spanish by Jacky Collins. My thanks to Ewa Sherman of Corylus Books for the tour invite and to the publisher for supplying an early copy of review. 

Corylus Books is a new venture aiming to publish exciting new voices translated into English with a particular focus on crime fiction with a social dimension.

Skin Deep is a short, punchy novella, which opens as most crime fiction does, with a body.

A wealthy, older woman, Elizabeth Audiard, has been found dead in a low-budget apartment in Biarritz, near the Spanish border. Natural causes are immediately ruled out by the discovery of acid burns in strange lines all over her body. Inspector Cannone has to work out what this moneyed Parisian was doing in such a shoddy apartment and why was she subjected to such a grisly death. Suspicion immediately falls on her much younger lover, composer Émile Gassiat, whose only alibi for the time of the murder is that he was out on his boat, in the middle of the night, recording the sounds of the sea as inspiration for his latest piece of music. There is no direct evidence to link Gassiat to the crime, but given the age difference between the couple, money is considered the prime motivation.

Adding to suspicion, Gassiat has another elderly wealthy lover in Paris – Iréne Duroudier – who is convinced of his innocence. She hires private detective Albert Larten to look into the unusual case in an attempt to find the real killer.

As a piece of crime fiction, Skin Deep has great structure, allowing the true nature of the crime to come to light through a discreet balancing of pacing and skill. What is most interesting about the book though is its exploration of identity and the treatment of those who do not conform to the norms of society.

Gassiat’s relationships with the two elderly women initially arouse suspicion, as they are judged to be wholly transactional. The idea that a young, talented, handsome man would want to be with women of this age is simply not entertained. Larten is also an interesting creation. A lawyer who works out of a campervan and blogs about wine on the side, he has a girlfriend called Monica, yet also wears makeup, high heels and women’s accessories. His ambivalence towards his gender makes him an unsettling presence for the other characters and an intriguing one for the reader. As such, he does somewhat overshadow Inspector Caconne, but his character has great potential for a series of his own.

‘I want someone who looks at him and his life choices, obviously with respect, but also naturally, that is, without being surprised. What is accepted as natural stops surprising us. And I think that you, Larten, are the best person to understand what I am proposing here, because you’ll surely have wanted that kind of openness for yourself as well.’

Skin Deep is confidently translated from the Spanish by Jacky Collins and has a strong sense of place. The procedural element of the novella is straightforward – once Larten is on the right track – but it too raises interesting ethical questions about the nature of aging and how our identities are often wrapped up in how we appear to the outside world. At only 114 pages long, Skin Deep packs in some interesting themes and is a great introduction to the work of Lassa and Corylus Books.


Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

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