Skin Deep by Antonia Lassa, trns by Jacky Collins

Today I am sharing my thoughts on Skin Deep, the brand new novel by Antonia Lassa, the first to be translated into English. My thanks to Ewa Sherman of Corylus Books for the tour invite and to the publisher for supplying an early copy of review. Here’s what the book is about:

Source: Advance Reader Copy
Release Date: 30 April 2023
Publisher: Corylus Books

About the Book

When police arrest eccentric loner Émile Gassiat for the murder of a wealthy woman in a shabby seaside apartment in Biarritz, Inspector Canonne is certain he has put the killer behind bars.
Now he just needs to prove it.

But he hasn’t reckoned with the young man’s friends, who bring in lawyer-turned-investigator Larten to head for the desolate out-of-season south-west of France to dig deep into what really happened.
Larten’s hunt for the truth takes him back to the bustle of Paris as he seeks to demonstrate that the man in prison is innocent, despite all the evidence – and to uncover the true killer behind a series of bizarre murders.

Skin Deep is Antonia Lassa’s first novel to appear in English.

My Thoughts

Skin Deep is a quick and rather intriguing read featuring a real mystery and some rather unique but completely engaging characters. The first we meet is Police Inspector Canonne as he is called to the scene of a particularly gruesome murder. The body of an elderly, and influential, woman is found in a holiday home in Biarritz. The woman has been brutally defaced, the reason for which is very unclear. Canonne’s investigation leads him quickly to a prime suspect, the woman’s younger lover, Émile, but surely the case can’t be that easy to solve?

This really is a fast paced book. At around 150 pages it is a short read, somewhere between novella and novel, but it is one that is packed with mystery that kicks off from they very beginning. Canonne is perhaps your typical, distracted, Detective, with a bothersome, missing, tooth and an equally troubling wife, both of which seem to preoccupy him to varying degrees. He was a character who seemed to hold a low tolerance of others, although with a high degree of interest in their dental health. I found both liked him and yet was also annoyed by his apparent tunnel vision when it came to Émile. But he wasn’t beyond persuasion, just a long as back up by evidence.

Émile is a fascinating, if somewhat aloof character. Despite being accused of murder, he never seems to get worked up or particularly passionate about anything other than music. By creating that kind of character, the author keeps a kind of question mark poised there, over whether or not he is guilty or innocent. There is something about him that speaks to a kind of naivety, perhaps a lack of comprehension of his plight, just an absolute certainty of his own innocence. thankfully it seems to be shared by the third principal character in this mystery, Émile’s lawyer, Larten, who also happens to be an investigator.

It’s fair to say that Larten is not your typical private-eye, and making some of his character traits clear forces the reader, and Canonne, to challenge perceptions of what is deemed ‘normal’ in terms of style and personality. Larten is a masculine character, with a keen instinct, but a very feminine flair and a passion for more feminine dress and style too. I liked that the author has ignored stereotypes and genre tropes in presenting a character who is very much reflective of modern society. No matter how Larten, dresses or acts, there is the sharp mind of an investigator there and that is all that really matters.

The styling of this book did take a little bit of getting used to. As the action tends to follow on particular character at a time, when conversations happen on the phone you only hear one side of it. Whilst this isn’t particularly unusual, there is normally another character there who the main character would bounce things off of, perhaps filling in some of the gaps in conversation for us as readers. It didn’t take too long to get to grips with that style but it did make me have to think harder about whether it was one character speaking all the lines, or the conversation back and forth. It’s down to personal preference whether that works for you or not, but it didn’t detract from the story.

I liked the mystery in this book, liked seeing it play out. Yes I was frustrated by the Police’s lack of action in seeking an alternative motive other than ‘the lover did it’, but the final pieces of the mystery slot together nicely and the final reveal, when it comes, is both surprising and fitting. Great translation by Jacky Collins that brought the characters, and setting to life, with the action moving between Biarritz and Paris. A super quick read that just hits the spot when you are looking for a mystery laden read.

About the Author

Born in Paris, Antonia Lassa is an enologist who works as a consultant for different private wineries around the world. This passion for wine has been instilled in her singular detective Albert Larten, for whom each new investigation is like a meticulous tasting. Wine is savoured through the eyes, the nose and the mouth, just like the crimes found in Skin Deep, with readers being invited to get involved with their five senses.

Antonia Lassa is the pseudonym of Luisa Etxenike.

About the Translator

Dr. Jacky Collins, lecturer in Spanish and Latin American Studies at Stirling University, is the Festival Director for Newcastle Noir. As ‘Dr Noir’ she regularly interviews a range of internationally acclaimed and emerging crime fiction authors at national and international events. Her series of author ‘consultations’ on the Newcastle Noir YouTube channel – The Doctor Will See You Now – is where lovers of everything crime fiction can catch up on news about latest publications.

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