By Charlie Huston
First Published: 2013
Jacket Design by Allison J. Warner
Review © 2013 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Spy Thriller, Pulp, Noir, Modern Fiction
Charlie Huston is known best for his crime thrillers. With his latest novel, Skinner, he makes the leap to international spy thriller and makes quite a splash while doing so. Combining deeply flawed characters with his trademark brand of extreme violence in a complicated plot with layers of international conspiracies yields a terrifically entertaining read.
One of the best aspects of Huston’s writing is his ability to create interesting characters that the reader can really develop feelings for before the inevitable violence breaks out. In this case, one of the main characters is an ant-hero named Skinner who has been warped by a bizarre childhood where he was literally raised in a box by his autistic parents who were using him as part of a long term experiment. Skinner has problems with social skills. He has difficulty interpreting emotions and has low empathy but he has extraordinarily intense focus. The CIA identifies these traits as being perfect for an assassin and Skinner eventually finds his calling in life as an asset protector. He becomes one of the highest regarded protectors in the world based upon a maxim he invented, “The only way to secure an asset is to ensure that the cost of acquiring it is greater than its value”. Skinner goes to extraordinary lengths to uphold his maxim and secure his reputation by carrying out gruesome killings of anyone who threatens his assets.
The other main character is Jae. She’s a brilliant cyber analyst who is obsessed with discovering patterns in data. She’s also depressed because all the long term data patterns point to a bad ending for the world. She’s been disenchanted with working for the CIA or other international security organizations and has tried to drown her obsessions with data in drugs. When a cyber-terrorist attack is launched on the US, an old friend says her talents are critical to prevent worldwide catastrophes. He makes arrangements for her to be under the protection of Skinner while she chases down the cyber terrorists. However, once the chase begins, they find that the cyber-terrorists are only the tip of the iceberg.
The plot of Skinner is basically a mad treasure hunt where every destination offers more dangers and clues to the next destination. The real question is where will all this lead and how many people want Jae or Skinner dead? Jae finds clues involving all kinds of negative world trends including global warming, rising unemployment, financial collapses, over population, etc. This gives opportunity for some philosophizing about the directions the world is heading. Depending on your viewpoint, the final reveal of the underlying mystery will be disappointing for some but the journey should disappoint no one.
With two highly intriguing characters, stylish violence, and layers upon layers of conspiracies, there is a tremendous amount of fun to be had in this novel. If you have any liking for international spy thrillers and don’t mind extreme violence, make sure to put Skinner at the top of your reading list.