‘Someone Else’s Skin’ by Sarah Hilary introduces us to the characters of DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake. Sent to a women’s refuge to try and convince one of the residents to give evidence against her brother, Marnie and Noah find themselves in the midst of mayhem, a vicious attack in which the lines between victim and perpetrator are most definitely blurred.
Ayana Mirza is in hiding at the refuge following a vicious attack by her own family. Her testimony about her brother’s behaviour is crucial to the chances of securing a conviction for an assault on another man which resulted in his hand being severed with a machete. As they arrive at the refuge, they hear a scream and find a man lying in a pool of blood having been stabbed by his wife. Hope Proctor was at the refuge having left him to escape domestic abuse; her husband, Leo, had no business being there. As Marnie and Noah try to investigate the attack, they find that in a room full of victims of domestic violence, what people see and what people think they see are two very different things.
When it is clear that her husband has survived the attack, Hope absconds from the hospital, helped by one of the other residents, Simone, a woman who has herself been receiving threatening letters from her abuser. Things become more complicated when Ayana, possibly their only reliable witness, disappears from the refuge, seemingly taken by her brothers. As they look further into the relationship between Hope and Leo, it is clear that things are not as simple as they first appeared. Someone is lying to them, a lie which has serious repercussions for one of the team.
‘Someone Else’s Skin’ is a very skilfully written look at the subject of domestic violence and the preconceptions and often misconceptions which surround both victims and abusers. The victim in this story is not someone who would typically be judged or believed to be a possible victim and Sarah Hilary has managed this situation extremely well. There is a discovery part way through the book which will turn the whole investigation, and the story itself, on its head. In addition to the ongoing story of Leo and Hope, you also have Simone, a victim of not only abuse at the hands of a sadistic young man, but also female genital mutilation in her native Uganda. And then there is Ayana, her background so very reminiscent of the stories of many young women who fall victim of honour killings for disgracing their families in some way.
As well as this, you have in Marnie Rome, a complex character whose own history is one of tragedy; seeing her parents murdered by someone they had trusted and tried to help. Marnie struggles with her relationship with their murderer, Stephen, of trying to understand his motivations for killing her parents and to control her emotions in situations which act as a trigger for her memories on the anniversary of their death.
Rome is spiky, determined and very straight in her manner, and although she is clearly affected her own heightened emotions during the investigations, she is still a likeable character. Her relationship with Noah and with psychologist Ed show that, unlike many other characters with a difficult past, she does not allow this to fully define her, or dominate and override her personal relationships. Is she fully open in her partnership with Noah? No. But you get to understand that this is a new pairing and you know this relationship will grow and that Rome does care for her partner. Noah Jake in himself is a unique character and very likeable. Jamaican, gay and with hints of a past which was not all sweetness and light. He is very smart, and while her respects Marnie, not afraid to challenge her methods.
The tone and pace of this book varies as the story progresses. The plot draws you in and forces you to read on if only to try to get your head around what is happening and to sort the truth from the lies. With several elements of misdirection, an underlying threat from an undisclosed voyeur, a tense hostage situation and Marnie distracted by a developing situation with her parent’s killer, as a reader you will be kept on your toes. The characters are well crafted and the setting is very realistic. You can really feel the necessary oppression of the refuge, particularly when contrasted with the opulence in which one of the abusers lives. You will most certainly be left questioning what you think you know and who in the story you fully trust as the book artfully lifts the lid on the often hidden and forgotten victims of abuse.
A great read. 5 stars.
Someone Else’s Skin is available to order here: