Book Review: Skin Games by Adam Pepper

Skin Games by Adam PepperSkin Games is the latest novel by self-published writer Adam Pepper.  Set in a rough neighbourhood in the Bronx, it’s a world away from my own daily worries.  I think that’s one of the reasons why I enjoyed escaping into it: reading about pressure from mob bosses and the professional criminal’s code of conduct allowed me to shiver delightedly from the relative safety of my London commute.

The novel is narrated for the most part by Skin, an ex-mob member.  He shows himself to be a tough but likeable guide through the wildness of his youth.  Life for Skin, then known as Sean ‘Shamrock’ O’Donnell, was simple: loyalty is everything.  Follow orders without question, don’t rat anyone out, and if you give your word, you keep your word.  Nostalgically he recalls jumping cars and starting to work his way up the ladder; unflinchingly he also details the many brutal beatings which came his way.  Skin may not cringe at their re-telling, but I certainly did; they’re quite graphic and this tale is definitely not for the faint-hearted.

Skin tells us how he fell in love with the mob boss’s daughter Nicole, and she with him.  Behind the sweet story of naïve first love which begins to develop in the middle of the book lie the ever-watchful eyes of the mafia.  In a world where Don Mario’s word is law, anyone who wants to date his only daughter must come up to the mark, and a no-good Irish boy at the bottom of the food chain is not a desirable candidate.  Mario decides to test him: he must prove his worth if he is to show that he can provide for his precious daughter.

As Skin (or Sean) finds himself carrying out increasingly dangerous tasks, he and Nicole grow closer and closer.  But even as their relationship blossoms, the reader can never shake the uneasy feeling that their happiness will not be allowed to last.  Tension is building and something has to give.

The first half of the novel is well-written and the story developed at a steady pace, with plenty of action and strong descriptions to keep my interest; the last half I found myself eagerly racing through to find out what was going to happen next.  It really was a page-turner (excuse the cliché), and if you enjoy a simple story with a brutal twist to get your adrenaline going, this is the eBook for you.

Our narrator’s up-front street voice suited the tone of the novel perfectly.  It created just the right atmosphere to evoke a crime-riddled suburb where you constantly have to watch your back.  You also can’t help but like Skin and take his side, even while he’s breaking the law and giving the cops hell.

I do like a good crime drama, but I have to confess that the extremely violent scenes in this one were almost a little too much for me.  If I had been watching the story unfold on the big screen I would have been able to look away, but you can’t do that with a book.  Despite the occasional wince, I’d still be interested to read another of Pepper’s novels at some point: forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

Overall this was a gripping read because of the strong plot, and yes, I’ll admit that I was especially pleased to feel this way about the first self-published eBook I’ve tried after all the negative eBook press there’s been lately.  If the prospect of a few dark and disturbing moments doesn’t put you off a novel (or in fact makes you even more keen!) then you’re likely to enjoy escaping into this one.

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