The streets of Philadelphia are blistering in the summer heat, the homicide rate is soaring and the nights belong to the mad. Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano are prowling the streets with a growing sense of unease. Where next will evil rear its ugly head?
When a series of seemingly unrelated crimes shatter the restless silence of the city, their worst fears are confirmed. A beautiful secretary is slashed to death in a grimy motel shower. A street hustler brutally murdered with a chainsaw. Piece by piece, a strange and sickening puzzle presents itself: someone is meticulously recreating Hollywood's most well-known and horrifying murder scenes, capturing them on film and inserting the clips into videos - for an unsuspecting public to find.
While Kevin Byrne begins furtive investigations of his own, Jessica Balzano goes undercover to work the steaming back alleys of Philadelphia, entering a violent world of underground film, pornography and seedy nightclubs, hidden to all but the initiated. Discovering that none of The Actor's victims are as innocent as they appear to be, the two detectives arrive at a terrifying reality: They are not just chasing a homicide suspect. They are stalking evil itself ...
He had me at Psycho.
Any self-respecting horror fan would say the same.
And that’s the thing about Richard Montanari’s writing: although aiming for the crime section of the book store, there have been times when he’s felt more like a horror writer, or frustrated horror writer, at the very least. His clipped and colloquial prose, the sharp yet subtle character development; it’s all reminiscent of early Stephen King. And that’s a good thing in my book.
With THE SKIN GODS, Byrne and Balzano’s second outing, Montanari sticks pretty much to the formula established within THE ROSARY GIRLS: maverick cop Kevin Byrne is as dodgy as ever, much of the plot dealing with yet another fine mess he’s got himself into, and a subsequent vigilante outing. Meanwhile his partner Jessica Balzano, still fresh to the job and mostly toeing the line, is balancing her role as a mother and struggling to deal with a recent separation. The humanising of his protagonists makes Montanari’s storytelling all the more effective, this series as character driven as it is plot driven.
But the plot doesn’t suffer, the mystery at its key every bit as engaging as that of THE ROSARY GIRLS. Montanari’s the master of the red herring, sending Philadelphia’s finest on many a wild goose chase, our killer as resourceful and cunning as they come. The payoff is brilliant, mind, weaving together various subplots into the main thrust of the story with ease.
Richard Montanari is quickly becoming my favourite crime writer working today. With Byrne and Balzano, he’s got the perfect duo, their own personal stories being a major hook to this series. A frustrated horror hack he may be, but that in no way takes away from how awesome a crime writer he is. This is genre fiction at its very best.
Genre Fiction Writer