Skin deep, by Antonia Lassa tr Jacky Collins – book review

The publisher Corylus Books specialises in bringing under-represented voices to an English-speaking audience. Skin deep, originally written in Spanish but set in France, is all about the under-represented. Sure, it follows the format of a murder investigation, but Antonia Lassa wants us to be confronted by her characters. Whom do we judge? Do we reflect society? That, almost more than the whodunit, is the question that courses through this slim novel’s pages.

Front cover of Skin Deep by Antonia Lassa tr Jacky Collins
Skin Deep by Antonia Lassa tr Jacky Collins published in the UK by Corylus Books on 30 April 2023 (ebook) and 15 May 2023 (paperback). Source: review copy

People are being murdered and accused of murder. They are on the outer edges of polite society: because they are old or because of what they do for a living, or maybe because of who they love. Even the most ‘ordinary’ of the characters is out of sorts: a physical problem has exacerbated a relationship breakdown. He seems to have the least agency of the lot and contrasts feebly with the furious independence of the characters most advanced in years. Old women are often forgotten by society. Lassa’s senior characters dominate every scene in which they appear.

If you are intrigued by the characters, you’ll love the setting. Translator Jacky Collins does admirably to portray the fading heat and ennui of Biarritz out of season. Once more we have the sense of being slightly excluded and not at the centre of things. Again, that’s without reckoning for some of the characters, who force their way to centre stage.

That’s not to say that the mystery itself doesn’t deserve attention. It’s a fairly straightforward case to unwrap – but it does open up ethical questions that remind us that simple empowerment can lead to personal disaster.

The theme, the heat, the sense of being on society’s fringe: all this will remind anyone who studied French in Britain of the classic L’Etranger. The difference is that the reader is invited to represent society and then to consider whether their own attitude fits with what they assume is the average: if not, why not, and what will we do about it?

A short review for a short volume: Skin deep is only 114 pages, but it raises more questions than much crime fiction. Ideal for a single sitting on a warm summer evening.

Thanks to Corylus Books for the review copy and to Ewa Sherman for the blog tour invitation.

Skin Deep blog tour poster

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