#BookReview: Skin Deep by Liz Nugent

skin deep“I could probably have been an actress. It is not difficult to pretend to be somebody else. Isn’t that what I’ve been doing for most of my life?”

Liz Nugent’s latest offering Skin Deep is the story of Cordelia Russell –  beautiful, charismatic, living as a socialite on the French Riveria. It’s also the story of who Cordelia really is – her real identity; her real circumstances; and most importantly her real, distinctly unbeautiful personality. Cordelia is some piece of work –one of the best female psychopaths ever written, she is up there with Cersei Lannister and Lady Macbeth for me. Occasional chapters told from other characters point-of-view really bring home the level of devastation Cordelia causes to others without a moment’s consideration. The word that continually comes to mind thinking about Skin Deep is ‘warped’ – there is something fundamentally twisted about Cordelia, and yet her beauty and charisma wins over so many people who are warped by her in turn. This is psychological thriller writing at its best – even when situations become extreme, the characters are totally believable and carry the story.

Most of you know I am a huge Liz Nugent fan – not least because in a genre that can become predictable and formulaic her focus on whydunnit rather than whodunnit keeps the stories gripping throughout the narrative rather than relying on a twist at the end that may or may not deliver. This is my favourite of her books to date. I was gripped by every page of Skin Deep, and yet somehow there was still a kicker of an ending that caused me to wake up my significant other by exclaiming “holy shit!” at 2am. I’m terrified of ruining this for anyone by giving away plot points – just trust me and read this one, ok?!

HUGE thanks to Penguin Ireland for sending me an advanced copy of this in exchange for an honest review. Skin Deep is available from bookshops on 5th April.

Enter to win a copy of Skin Deep here.

Lying in Wait – book review

cover.jpg.rendition.460.707We’re all used to hearing about ‘the difficult second album’, but there seems to be an expectation that writers don’t experience anything of the sort. I imagine, however, that Liz Nugent felt second-book-syndrome keenly when she sat down to write a book to follow in the footsteps of her best-selling award-winning debut Unravelling Oliver. It probably didn’t help that she has a vocal and enthusiastic following (including myself!) who were not very patiently waiting for something to match up to the twists and twistedness of her first offering.

“My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it… I couldn’t help going over the events of the night in my mind, each time wishing that some aspect, some detail, could be different, but facts are facts and we must get used to them.”

Lying in Wait grabs you with a stonker of a first sentence, and it doesn’t let go from there. Narrated by three characters in alternating chapters – Lydia Fitzsimons, reclusive wife of a respected judge; her son Laurence; and Karen Doyle, sister of a murdered prostitute. All three have a unique voice and viewpoint, and the sickening developments in the story are all the more real for it. The supporting characters in this book are excellent – shout out to poor Bridget’s father, who features only on about five pages yet managed to break my heart. Tiny touches (Anco courses and Ponds face cream) combine with institutional horrors such as the mother and baby ‘homes’ to set the time period perfectly. The reality of class divides in Dublin are skilfully fleshed out without ever being explicitly in the foreground. I am not going to say a single word about the plot for fear of spoiling it – you just need to read this one.

I was afraid I would ruin this for myself in the frenzy of anticipation surrounding the lead up to publication – it’s easy for something to fall flat if you have psyched yourself up about how brilliant you expect it to be. I’m delighted to say I need not have worried – in fact, this is a superior book, and anticipation has already started for book three! Strengths I saw in Nugent’s writing when I read Unravelling Oliver are happily confirmed to be something we can rely on from her rather than a once off… books that don’t hang everything on one big twist but are ‘twisty’; a focus on whydunnit not whodunit; authentically voiced characters from the sympathetic to the supremely warped; a willingness to engage with issues of race, class, and control; a steely determination not to shy away from dark and disturbing endings. If you liked Unravelling Oliver, you are going to love Lying in Wait.

Lying in Wait is launching Thursday July 14th in Eason, St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, Dublin 2 at 6:30pm. You too can come! But you must RSVP to ajohnston@penguinrandomhouse.ie