Skin Deep by Antonia Lassa

Translated by Jacky Collins

I’m delighted to be today’s stop on the blogtour for Corylus Books’ first publication translated from Spanish – and Skin Deep is an absolute winner! At just 114 pages, it may be brief, but as crime novels go it’s not a quick read, for it has real depth. There is so much to savour in the characterisation, especially in the eccentric lawyer-investigator Pierre Larten, but also in the supporting characters who are fully realised from the Police Inspector to the accused man to the women in his life, one of whom turns up dead.

Have I convinced you yet? Let me tell you a bit about the story.

It begins, as most crime novels do, with a body. We’re in out-of-season Biarritz and Inspector Cannone is called to a holiday let, where the owner discovered the body of an elderly woman when she went to collect the keys. Cannone is mostly concerned with his teeth at the time – having a failed dental implant, so when an obvious suspect is identified from her phone, he is quick to bring him in without further ado, arresting him as he disembarked his boat.

Elizabeth Audiard, was an elderly Parisian millionairess, and had been having a relationship with a young man in his twenties from Arcachon, south of Bordeaux. It is immediately assumed that he is a gold-digger, a gigolo. But Émile Gassiat is no normal twenty-six-year-old…

He reacted to the police and their request to go with them to the police station without any surprise, ‘as if her were expecting us,’ thought Canonne, with a calmness and without any expression of emotion, that you rarely see in the innocent, who are usually quite bewildered. Those who are innocent are usually much more expressive, pulling faces, making gestures, indignant expressions complaining about how unjust their being taken into custody was.

Émile’s case isn’t made any easier by the fact he has a piano worth 40k, that he uses an assumed name, and that some of his drawings bear a possible resemblance to the markings burned onto the corpse’s legs (post mortem).

But he has other friends. A woman called Irène Durourdier, another rich eighty-year-old and occasional lover, hires him a lawyer. Enter Pierre Larten. Irène tells him why she picked him:

‘I want someone who looks at him and his life choices, obviously with respect, but also naturally, that is, without being surprised. What is accepted as natural stops surprising us. And I think that you, Larten, are the best person to understand what I a proposing here, because you’ll surely have wanted that kind of openness for yourself as well.’

Larten is indeed a good match, a Parisian lawyer-detective with a very individual personal style, nothing phases him. You feel confident that he’ll solve the case to the satisfaction of his employer, Madame Duroudier – who is as shrewd as they come. The solution is interesting, and it is Larten’s dogged detective work that uncovers what really happened.

Larten is an amazing character whom I’d love to see more of, with his mobile office (and wine cellar) in an RV. The moment he entered the novella, he lit the pages up, striking a different image to more usual crime investigators. I feel in this first encounter with him in English, we’ve only just started to get to know him.

Lassa was born in Paris but writes in Spanish; she’s a wine expert and writer and has obviously extended that to Larten. Her biog suggests she’s written more about him, so let’s hope Jacky Collins will translate some more soon.

As I said at the top, this novella is a winner. I loved it. You can see what the others on the blog tour think too.

Source: Review copy – thank you to Corylus Books!

BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

6 thoughts on “Skin Deep by Antonia Lassa

  1. Calmgrove says:

    You make an excellent case for this, Annabel – I do like rich, credible characterisations in the crime fiction I choose to read!

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