Source: Review copy
Publication: 15 May 2023
My thanks to Corylus Books for an advance copy for review
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.
Antonia Lassa’s Skin Deep is an absolute gem of a book. It is full of stand-out characters and one in particular who should return in future books. A novella, Skin Deep is a rich and satisfying story that really captured my attention.
Inspector Canonne of the Bayonne Criminal Investigation Team is not a happy man. His home life is not going well and to top that, he’s on a return visit to the dentist to try and sort out his woes with his dental implants. That he is obsessing somewhat over the implants question, assigning all his troubles to the absence of a solution, tells us something about the imagination and understanding of human nature that he possesses.
Madame Elisabeth Audiard, an 80 year old woman is found murdered in a somewhat shabby holiday apartment in Biarritz yet it transpires that she was from a wealthy family and had a suite in the best hotel in Biarritz. This murder is especially unpleasant with some strange aspects to it – notably the defiling of the woman’s facial skin- and Canonne does not have to look far to find the obvious suspect. The handsome young man, Émile Gassiat has no trouble agreeing that he was in a relationship with this woman so much older than himself, but equally he is cool upon his arrest and completely sanguine about stating his innocence.
As the police delve deeper into this young man, it becomes clear that relationships with older, rich women are part of a pattern of behaviour for M. Gassiat; a pattern he freely admits. Not only that but the women with whom he consorts know beyond doubt that he is innocent and a bewildered Inspector Canonne cannot understand why none of these women can see what is pretty obvious to him.
One of Gassiat’s ‘friends’ turns to the former lawyer turned investigator Albert Larten to prove Gassiat’s innocence.
Albert Larten is not only an investigator, he is also a wine expert and he has his own blog, entitled ‘The Wine Detective’. His persona is a little unsettling without being outré; he is a fluid character who strolls his own path and who brings all his senses to investigating a crime. It is this ability to look outside the obvious and to consider more than just the facts in front of him that makes him such an intriguing character. Larten works from a mobile home which enables him to travel anywhere a case demands and gives him a freedom and flexibility he enjoys.
Larten, because he is not interested in judging this case through the lens of societal judgements, is prepared to walk through the origins of this crime and as he does so, to contemplate what might lead someone to do what this murderer has done and to defile this woman’s skin.
Verdict: Skin Deep is a beautifully written and utterly fascinating crime scenario which invites the reader to dispense with pre-conceived ideas and to embrace the whole of story, using all the faculties at the readers disposal. Jacky Collin’s translation is nicely spare, leaving all the flavour of the original and not imposing a different footprint on top. The result is a delightfully dark but ultimately satisfying story that really showcases this writer’s complex characters and direction. I’d read the next one in a heartbeat.
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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.
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.