The Skin Collector by Jeffery Deaver

Skin Collector 2New York City. In the basement of the shop where she works, Chloe Moore is drugged and taken underground. There, at the mercy of her abductor, she is tattooed with a message – simply the phrase “the second”. But Chloe knows little about this, as the tattooist – a man whose plans reach far beyond one woman – hasn’t used ink. He’s used concentrated poison…

Lincoln Rhyme, the quadraplegic consulting detective and his partner Amelia Sachs are called in to investigate, but find the crime scene purged of almost all trace evidence, Rhyme’s speciality. The only item of interest is a section from a book detailing Rhyme’s involvement in the most important case of his career – the serial killer known as the Bone Collector. But is the so-called Skin Collector out for revenge, or something much more dangerous?

I’ve been a fan of Jeffery Deaver since reading The Bone Collector about sixteen or so years ago – although to be absolutely fair, it was the second book, The Coffin Dancer, which really hooked me. Since then I’ve kept my eye out for his work – not quite a completist, but pretty close. And the best of the bunch is usually the Lincoln Rhyme series. I think he’s probably my favourite thriller writer, due to the multiple twists and turns he piles into his plots. It can sometimes backfire – the recent XO, for example – but usually keeps the reader completely hooked – the even more recent The Kill Room. But what about this one?

One niggle – the proofreader missed the three occasions when a word that ends with “y” and then quotation marks, such as “forty”, has somehow becomes “fort”Y.

That’s the only niggle. Other than that, this book is one of the finest thrillers that I’ve read. A disturbing new adversary for Rhyme, with plenty of well-written point of view sections from the killer that push the plot forward without at any time being unnecessarily disgusting… actually, one bit is pretty gross, but it doesn’t involve the murders. The plot is nicely convoluted and, unlike most thrillers, is actually fairly clued. Even small items turn out to be part of the bigger picture – it’s a masterpiece of plotting.

It also gives an insight into something that I had no previous knowledge – that of skin art, or tattooing. Even now, I’m not sure I understand why people would permanently mark themselves, but I’ve got a little more insight than I did.

Yes, certain twists you might see coming, but I seriously doubt you’ll catch them all. And while this is perfectly enjoyable for the new reader, it also delves into a few of the earlier Rhyme novels (without spoiling them) to give some of the developments some added weight. And I hope Deaver gets on with the next Rhyme book asap as while this book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, it does tease the next book, which I want to read NOW!

Thanks for my local library for getting this in very soon after publication – needless to say, this is Highly Recommended.

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23 comments

  1. What an odd proofing error. I wonder how it happened. Obviously someone missed it, but how did it get that way in the first place? Three times is a pattern, but it’s not a mistake a human would make. But then why would a computer make that change either? Were you reading the e-book version?

    If there’s not a lot of continuity I may give this a try. The last Deaver novel I read was The Vanished Man, which started well but ultimately made absolutely no sense. It was twists for twists’ sake – why would the killer bother going to such lengths when they could have just committed their crime in a normal way and never have been suspected or caught?

    But everyone has off days, and maybe that was just a blip. If this is one of the finest thrillers you’ve read, that’s got to be worth a look!

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    • No, paper copy.

      The Vanished Man isn’t the best, but if you’re going to ask about why such a convoluted plan, maybe Deaver isn’t the author for you… things can get a bit silly at times.

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      • Sure. And I really am happy to overlook a lot of convoluted silliness for the sake of there being a story to tell. It’s hard to have twists without lots of different elements in play at once, and these kinds of stories rely on exaggerated villains (ostensibly) trying to send a message through their crimes and matching wits with a brilliant but flawed detective. Nothing wrong with that. It’s a solid setup.

        But the problem in The Vanished Man (without wishing to get too specific) is that a) the killer’s convoluted plan is ultimately based around trying to get away scot free and b) that’s how Rhyme tumbles to the plan and stops him. But the best way to get away with the crime scot free would have been to stop faffing about and just do it. So neither the killer nor the detective’s reasoning makes any sense. In a battle of wits, I think at least one side needs to know what they’re talking about!

        It’s fine to expect the reader to overlook an aspect of the real world for the sake of the story, but you can’t then drag it back in as part of the climax. That’s not playing fair.

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      • I think it also applies to The Tiger’s Head by Paul Halter (the matter of killing and dismembering girls).

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      • I think the crucial thing is whether the deviation from reality is part of the detective’s reasoning, and how vital it is to the chain of “logic”. When you’re writing puzzle plots there’s a definite covenant between reader and author, and a good writer has to be aware of it and respect it.

        I have a bee in my bonnet about lots of “classic” novels, but C. Daly King’s Obelists Fly High seems apt here. The reader/author relationship there basically goes:

        King: Okay, so here’s a bit of totally made up science, but bear with me, because it’ll make for an exciting story.
        Reader: Okay, I’m down with that.
        [300 pages later]
        King: Ha ha! Only a complete idiot would believe that [item] would actually work like that. What a stunning twist and insightful point about how stupid the general public are when it comes to science.
        Reader: But I knew it was stupid, I only pretended it wasn’t to be kind, because you couldn’t come up with a realistic story…
        King: Nope, I’m brill and you’re rubbish.

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      • You’re making me dread reading that book…

        As for the rest, I’m afraid that I’m missing the point a little bit. The deviation didn’t strike me as being that bad, in spite of everything I heard about it. Maybe my suspension of disbelief is too high…

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  2. I gave up reading Deaver for the same reason as richmcd, although I think it was a different novel. I came to the conclusion the book didn’t have anything you could sensibly call a plot, just a collection of pointless, obsessive twists and turns. I enjoyed some of his earlier books, though, so on your recommendation I’ll give The Skin Collector a try.

    Wot? Never heard of Ross Macdonald’s The Underground Man? Tch, tch.

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    • Deaver is interesting. I read Twisted, his collection of short stories, and there’s such a huge mix of quality there, along many different dimensions. (Although that’s true of many mystery/thriller collections.)

      Purely considered as twist stories, I think only Triangle is successful. With the rest, the fact you know that Deaver is the author and it’s a collection of twist stories gives the game away too soon. They have the same one-two punch almost every time. The novels work better, because he has more room to manoeuvre, but he actually doesn’t have a very broad range of structural twist techniques at his disposal.

      Even odder is how Deaver can be so knowledgable on some subjects but a complete ignoramus on others. There’s really no other word to describe his cack-handed mangling of English in his Shakespeare story. I couldn’t finish it. It’s surely be the worst thing he’s ever written?

      His thrillers that centre around hacking and computing also seem to be very inaccurate, as a rule. I’m by no means an expert, but even I could tell that the “research” for The Blue Nowhere was pulled entirely from his bottom.

      But then there other times he writes very convincingly and informatively about obscure subjects and seems to really value accuracy. It’s odd.

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