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Skin Deep    by Gary Braver order for
Skin Deep
by Gary Braver
Order:  USA  Can
Forge, 2008 (2008)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Gary Braver's Skin Deep opens on a Boston murder, one in which the victim invites the killer into her bedroom before he ruthlessly strangles her, and stages the scene to look like a case of 'autoerotica gone bad.'

After Lieutenant Detective Lieutenant Steve Markarian, the Homicide lead on the case, spots discrepancies at the scene, the coroner confirms that Terry Farina was murdered. Sadly, both Steve and his partner, Neil French, knew the victim, a night student at Northeastern University who worked a stripper for extra money. And, as this unusual police procedural develops, Steve adds both Neil and himself to his list of murder suspects.

How could Steve not know if he himself was the killer? Depressed over his wife Dana's insistence on a trial separation, Steve has been mixing his meds with alcohol, resulting in periodic amnesia. Now, as he works Terry's case - and finds links to other similar deaths - Steve agonizes over the possibility that he could be the perp. As this develops, the author shows us periodic flashbacks of the killer's past that make his motivations for murder very clear.

In parallel with all this, we see Steve's wife Dana, with whom he maintains a (mostly) friendly relationship, feeling the pressure of job competition with younger women - 'in a culture that reveres youth' - and deciding on plastic surgery. Steve worries that she's using this 'modern alchemy' to shed her old skin, and is planning to enter a new phase of life without him. And she does seem to feel something for her cosmetic surgeon, the compelling Aaron Monks.

Skin Deep is an interesting mix of police procedural and psychological thriller, that also offers insights into the world of cosmetic surgery. Gary Braver does a fine job of portraying his protagonist's uncertainty over his own culpability, and subsequent guilt after he shines the spotlight of suspicion on those who prove to be innocent. If you're looking for something very different in a police procedural, you won't go wrong with Skin Deep.

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