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Skin Game - A Review

by Warren Johnson 2 years ago in book reviews
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A missing girl in Vegas...will she be found?

I’m not a person who typically tries to feel emotion. I actively try not to. Emotions are complicated and in my experience they make things messy in real life.

I was not prepared for the emotional upheaval in Skin Game. It blindsided me with a state of mind both heartbreaking and haunting. Even though it is fiction, it shows an ugly truth to the world, conveyed in a story that draws you in close and the sucker punches you.

(Warning: this book depicts the horrors of human trafficking and sexual slavery, in some graphic detail. Read at your own discretion.)

I love a good detective story; the jaded private eye with a chip on their shoulder, belly full of whiskey and lungs full of cigarette smoke, rubbing elbows with the dregs of humanity while searching for the big conspiracy that will fill their bank account and pacify their wounded heart. It’s a type of story that appeals to many readers. J.D. Allen’s Skin Game is assuredly such a story.

The main character, private investigator Jim Bean, typifies the weary, hardened sleuth snooping around in the bowels of Las Vegas. He is a character with a traumatic past, lamenting a stolen future, and using his skills to scrap out a meager existence. Throughout the novel, we as the reader experience a constant recursion of ‘what if’s’ as Jim questions how he has come to that specific moment, briefly dreaming of that other world where life is different. Better. Few things could be more human and sympathetic.

This connection allowed me to almost experience the events of the story on a visceral level, and this was not always a pleasant experience. At first, the story seems formulaic; the detective’s old flame comes to town searching for a family member, the detective is roped into helping, and they track down leads together. The tone of the story shifts suddenly with a collection of dog cages, a set of handcuffs, and dried blood.

Jim and Erica Floyd—the previously mentioned connection to the past, come to Las Vegas to find her missing sister—soon find themselves embroiled in a dark shadow world, one where the lowest filth of humanity make their profit in the titular “skin game”.

The emotional responses that Allen evokes with the diction and characters are so heart wrenching, I struggled at times to remember how to breathe. In a single page I felt anger, disgust, pity, relief, fury, heartbreak and a kaleidoscopic array of other emotions that left me physically and mentally drained. I’ve haven’t felt so human in a long time.

The setting is a horrifying situation that is unfortunately an ugly truth to the world. It leaves you cheering for the main characters to prevail, perched on the edge of your seat as the climax approaches and wishing every possible punishment upon the antagonists.

Allen’s cast of characters helps the experience of this story make a bit more sense. While the story is told through Jim Bean’s point of view, the reader experiences the tragic unfolding events through three different perspectives: Erika, a person who has no real idea of the horrors of Sin City; Jim, who knows but had no real previous connection to the situation; and Jim’s bounty hunter/private eye friend Oscar, who has a very heartbreaking and personal connection to the skin game. Through these three, we see the level of pain inflicted by this shadowy, dehumanizing enterprise. Nobody leaves the skin game unchanged, and it’s never for the better.

While it may prove a shock to the system to many readers, it’s that abruptness that provides a reason to keep turning the page. The moments in the dark leave us thankful for the light in the next chapter. Skin Game may deal with a touchy subject, but it is a powerful example of betrayal, reconciliation, despair, and understanding that demonstrates what it is to be truly human.

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About the author

Warren Johnson

Chronic geek and hopeful writer. Part-time gamer. Pathologically introverted. I love fantasy, sci-fi, and mystery, with a sprinkle of fan service in there. Whether through writing or drawing, I hope to bring my characters to life.

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