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The Skin Gods / Richard Montanari

ththeskingods.jpgBallantine Books (Reprint Edition) / July 2007
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

In his follow-up to the bestselling The Rosary Girls, Richard Montanari returns with The Skin Gods, a edge-of-your-seat page-turner that blends police procedure with pop culture in an ingeniously plotted, high-speed serial killer suspense thriller.

In The Skin Gods, Montanari returns to the familiar Philadelphia haunts of previous efforts, his City of Brotherly Love so well depicted that the metropolis itself becomes a key supporting player in the action. A madman is loose on the streets of Philadelphia, re-creating famous movie murder scenes and then splicing film footage of the actual murders into VHS rental tapes. Homicide detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano, whom Montanari first introduced in Rosary Girls, begin a hunt for the cinema-obsessed killer, dubbed The Actor by the police. As the bodies pile up in faithful re-stagings of scenes from Psycho, Fatal Attraction, and Scarface, their investigation leads them from the sleazy worlds of S&M clubs and low-budget porn to big budget filmmaking.

If Montanari pays homage to the famous movie scenes used here as plot devices, then perhaps it’s best to describe the book by way of its celluloid counterparts. The Skin Gods is the literary equivalent to films like Copycat, Seven, and the lesser known 80’s horror flick Fade to Black (to which Montanari both gives nods and owes some of his story’s contrivances here), with hints of Dressed to Kill, all wrapped up in a slick, gritty Cold Case episode – complete with flashbacks. And while there’s nothing groundbreaking here in the notion of the “concept” serial killer, The Actor’s unoriginality in modeling his killings after movie murders comes across as simultaneously fresh and déjà vu. Fortunately, Montanari has the writing chops to pull off this literary sleight of hand trick.

Montanari excels in creating a plot that’s at once intricate and complicated, but never so much so that the reader loses interest or becomes frustrated. Subplots abound, and if one enjoys their narratives layered and complex, The Skin Gods is your poison of choice. Adding a hint of mystery to this rather formulaic action, the author skillfully tears a page from the Agatha Christie handbook and sprinkles in enough red herrings and suspects to leave readers genuinely surprised in the grand drawing room denouement – here substituted with an abandoned building in North Philly. Many of Montanari’s scenes are short and movie-like themselves, giving a breakneck, breathless pace to the narrative.

Like his fictional big-budget action movie director Ian Whitestone in The Skin Gods, Montanari is a polished suspense writer who knows his way around the page with deft characterizations, believable dialogue, and an understanding of how pop culture has invaded very aspect of modern life. And in between the graphic thrills and chills of The Skin Gods, Montanari reminds us of the fact that society’s obsession with pop culture having made its way into serial killers’ methods of operation is both sad and satiric, while seeming to be a natural progression of its insidious impact.

Purchase Richard Montanari’s The Skin Gods

Posted on Saturday, November 3, 2007 at 01:37PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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