Beneath The Skin by Sandra Ireland

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Beneath The Skin by Sandra Ireland

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Kerry King
Reviewed by Kerry King
Summary: A chance meeting, a job offered and accepted; is Walt jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, being confronted by the undead on a daily basis? Do fragile, damaged, complicated women ever become simple and robust? Well, you'll have to read on and find out.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: September 2016
Publisher: Polygon
ISBN: 978-1846973611

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Robert Walton is ex-military – a soldier suffering from combat stress and what he now realises is clearly PTSD. He prefers to be called Walt; it's short and simple and Walt likes things that are not complicated. Alys is fragile, damaged and complicated and not the kind of woman Walt is looking for. A taxidermist by trade – a rather macabre one at that – Alys enjoys creating Walter Potter style tableaus in a slightly horrifying tribute to her sole career influence. Alys runs her business from her home, which she shares with her sister, Mouse and Mouse's son William. It's a strange set up and though Walt needs the job – of handyman/gopher/taxidermy assistant must not be squeamish – room and board included, he wonders what he has let himself in for.

The victim of an IED blast and with the prosthesis to prove it, Walt suffers with post combat stress and quite literally all of the symptoms of PTSD. He wakes every night in the midst of a terrifying flashback to the incident that ended his career with the Army and copes daily with moments of ghostly recall that are so tangible, Walt fears that he might be a danger to others. It is during one of these sleepless nights that Walt realises there may not just be the four of them in the house. Doors do not open by themselves and bathrooms do not get steamy without hot water having been recently run. Is there a ghost in this house or is Walt losing his mind for real?

Sandra Ireland has picked a tricky subject in the issues confronted by her protagonist. PTSD is a difficult and controversial issue and with the lack of investment by the Government in addressing mental health in the population, she has certainly lit upon a talking point.

Alys is bizarre and quite fascinating. She makes quite an impact in a stunning start and as Walt's relationship with the sisters and William begins to develop, the plot thickens and draws you in.

I don't want to say any more about this super first novel; there is a marvellous twist to the plot that is very compelling. Ireland certainly likes to take a handful of difficult subject matter, throw them into the mix and watch the reader take their time in discovering which way she has made them lie.

If you like the sound of Beneath The Skin, this is Sandra Ireland's debut, but we at Bookbag think you may also like to take a look at The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse which we at Bookbag loved or perhaps The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman which in much a similar vein as Beneath The Skin, is not exactly great literature, but is very firmly in the great – slightly alternative - read camp of fiction.

Our thanks go to the kind folks at Polygon for sending this copy to Bookbag for review.

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