Skin Deep by Liz Nugget | Compelling psychological drama

The title may be Skin Deep but there is nothing superficial about the characters in Liz Nugent’s third novel. 

The story opens with Cordelia Russel in a room where she has just murdered somebody and is wondering when rigor mortis will set in.

Born on a remote Irish island, Cordelia has been living on the French Riviera for twenty-five years, passing herself off as an English socialite. But her luck has run out. And we find out why as her story slowly unfolds over the coming chapters.

Like Liz Nugent’s earlier novels — Unravelling Oliver and Lying in Wait  Skin Deep is dark. Cordelia is not a likeable character but slowly you come to understand at least some of the reasons why she behaves as she does. And those reasons go back to her early life on the island, particularly her relationship with her father and the expectations he encouraged during her childhood — expectations grounded in myth and dark storytelling.

There are a lot layers to explore in this novel — island life with its hardship, secrets and tight community, family jealousies, betrayal, myth, charity, home, retribution, the elements of fire and water, earth and the mercurial nature of Cordelia herself.

This is carefully crafted novel where the threads are well interwoven and expertly tied together in a satisfying conclusion.

Chaos by Patricia Cornwell | Slow-moving Scarpetta investigation

Chaos opens on a hot summer evening in Cambridge, Massachusetts with Dr. Kay Scarpetta on her way to meet her husband FBI agent Benton Wesley for dinner. Before they get a chance to eat, however, Scarpetta and her investigative partner Pete Marino have to respond to a call about a young woman cyclist who has been attacked. 

But even before they are officially notified about the case, Marino and Benton receive suspicious calls, allegedly from someone at Interpol who already knows what has happened. Then it emerges that the attack may be linked to threatening messages Scarpetta has been receiving by email.

This is a slow moving novel, particularly in the early chapters. It picks up after a while but, for me at least, it’s not one of the better novels in the Scarpetta series.

The Wardrobe Mistress by Patrick McGrath | A topical read

Patrick McGrath showed up on the programme for the 2018 Festival of Writing and Ideas at Borris talking madness and menace with historian Roy Foster.  While I didn’t make it to the session entitled, ‘Gothic or What?’, I made a mental note to check out McGrath’s book, The Wardrobe Mistress. This week, I finally got around to reading it.

Set in post-war Britain in 1947, The Wardrobe Mistress opens with the funeral of actor Charles Grice. The mourners include Grice’s wife, Joan, who lends McGrath’s book its title, and their daughter, Vera.

Joan and Vera are the main characters in this novel along with actor Frank Stone, who who attracts Joan’s attention when he takes over her husband’s Malvolio character.

For the first 100 pages or so of this novel, I found it hard to connect with the characters and plot. There’s a point where Frank Stone,   “suddenly glimpsed that who he was — his very self — was as nothing.” That line seemed to me to sum up the opacity of the characters (at least as I experienced them) in the early part of the novel. But the pace does pick up and I found the second half of the book a faster and more interesting read.

The Wardrobe Mistress is topical at the moment in that Mosley’s fascist followers feature in the story line. I liked the historical references and also the way that McGrath handles the Grice’s daughter Vera’s role in The Duchess of Malfi.  But would I recommend The Wardrobe Mistress? I’m not sure. Probably ‘yes’ for anyone interested in the rise of right wing thinking after the war or for anyone interested in theatre or even for those who like a ghost story. 

It’s published by Penguin. I read a copy from my local public library. (Thank you Wicklow County Council Library Service).