I cannot adequately explain the joy, the incredible sense of pleasure, I derived from reading this book. Even as the book’s plot unraveled a bit at the end, I enjoyed every moment of reading Nairne Holtz’s Skin Beneath. The first paragraph:
Sam unlocks the mailbox in the lobby of her building, takes out a single envelope, opens the back flap to discover a postcard inside. She reads the words on the postcard: “Your sister died while investigating a political conspiracy. Coincidence? How often do women kill themselves with a gun? Think about it.”
What an opening, right? First, the sentence is not a fluke– the entire novel occurs in third person, present tense. Which is just… amazing. In a lesser writer’s hands, it could have come across as gimmicky, or even intrusive. It was a little mesmerizing, instead, to experience the events of a book at the same time as the protagonist. And secondly, the subject matter! A dead sister! A conspiracy! Holtz not only writes well, she also imagines a great plot.
Interestingly, this is a difficult book to sum up because it’s only a mystery on the surface. Five years after her sister’s death by overdose, Sam receives a post card claiming Chloe’s death was not an accident at all, but murder. Still struggling with grief and guilt, Sam decides to trace the mystery of her sister’s last months by moving to Montreal and trying to figure out who Chloe knew, where she worked, what she did, etc., before dying in the Chelsea Hotel in New York. In Montreal, she becomes entangled with Omar and Romey, Chloe’s ex-boyfriend and ex-roommate– both of whom appear to have secrets of their own.
The mystery of Chole’s death is the impetus for Sam to change her life — as she finds out more and more about the secrets of her sister’s life, she also has to deal with her own secrets, her own hidden truths. She also falls hard for Romey, even as she doesn’t quite trust her new girlfriend, or Romey’s relationship to Omar. It’s an incredible journey to follow, and I love the way new clues about Chloe reveal new sides to Sam and Romey. However, Holtz doesn’t maintain the momentum, and the end felt anti-climatic. It all kind of collapses in on itself, as some of the conspiracy revelations get a bit extraordinary in the last half of the book.
All in all, this was a great read that I highly recommend and I will definitely be picking up more books by Holtz.