With the breakneck pacing and intricate plotting of his most recent novel, The Rosary Girls, Richard Montanari established himself as one of the most exciting suspense writers working today. Now he proves himself a virtuoso with The Skin Gods, an explosive new thriller featuring Philadelphia homicide detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano.
It is the steaming heart of summer in the City of Brotherly Love. Back on the force after taking a bullet during the arrest of a sadistic murderer, Detective Kevin Byrne warily returns to police headquarters. He cannot shake the memory of the Rosary Killer's innocent victims-or his growing sense that the evil has not been vanquished. And when he and his partner, Detective Jessica Balzano, are called in on a bizarre case, Byrne's gravest suspicions are confirmed.
A madman, dubbed The Actor by the homicide unit, is meticulously re-creating Hollywood's most famous-and most gruesome-death scenes. The first murder is caught on film, spliced into a rented VHS edition of the Hitchcock black-and-white masterpiece Psycho. But in place of Janet Leigh is a real-life woman, and this time, the blood is red and the knife is real. Soon, more thrilling classics are turned into terrifying snuff films and placed on video store shelves for an unsuspecting public to find.
The key to this horrific puzzle could lie with any of The Skin Gods' supporting cast: the A-list Hollywood director, the ruthless executive assistant, the convicted mass murderer-or perhaps someone else who has made a sinister art of gruesome violence.
Hot on the psychopath's trail, Balzano and Byrne descend into the mouth of madness and beyond, deep into the depraved underworld of S&M clubs and the porn industry, where the worship of flesh leads to malevolent evil. Before the final credits roll, the investigators will discover that none of The Actor's victims are as innocent as they appear to be, and that the clue the police need to prevent future murders might be found in Detective Byrne's own dark past.
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March 14, 2006
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Excerpt from The Skin Gods by Richard Montanari
1 “What I really want to do is direct.” Nothing. No reaction at all. She stares at me with those big Prussian blue eyes, waiting. Perhaps she is too young to recognize the cliché. Perhaps she is smarter than I thought. This is either going to make the task of killing her very easy, or very difficult. “Cool,” she says. Easy. “You’ve done some acting. I can tell.” She blushes. “Not really.” I lower my head, raise my eyes. My irresistible look. Monty Clift in A Place in the Sun. I can see it working. “Not really?” “Well, when I was in junior high we did West Side Story.” “And you played Maria.” “Not hardly,” she says. “I was just one of the girls at the dance.” “Jet or Shark?” “Jet, I think. And then I did a couple of things in college.” “I knew it,” I say. “I can spot a theatrical vibe a mile away.” “It was no big deal, believe me. I don’t think anyone even noticed me.” “Of course they did. How could they miss you?” She reddens even more deeply. Sandra Dee in A Summer Place. “Keep in mind,” I add, “lots of big movie stars started out in the chorus.” “Really?” “Naturellement.” She has high cheekbones, a golden French braid, lips painted a lustrous coral. In 1960 she would have worn her hair in a bouffant or a pixie cut. Beneath that, a shirtwaist dress with a wide white belt. A string of faux pearls, perhaps. On the other hand, in 1960, she might not have accepted my invitation. We are sitting in a nearly empty corner bar in West Philadelphia, just a few blocks from the Schuylkill River. “Okay. Who is your favorite movie star?” I ask. She brightens. She likes games. “Boy or girl?” “Girl.” She thinks for a few moments. “I like Sandra Bullock a lot.” “There you go. Sandy started out in made-for-TV movies.” “Sandy? You know her?” “Of course.” “And she really made TV movies?” “Bionic Showdown, 1989. The harrowing tale of international intrigue and bionic menace at the World Unity Games. Sandy played the girl in the wheelchair.” “Do you know a lot of movie stars?” “Almost all of them.” I take her hand in mine. Her skin is soft, flawless. “And do you know what they all have in common?” “What?” “Do you know what they all have in common with you?” She giggles, stamps her feet. “Tell me!” “They all have perfect skin.” Her free hand absently goes to her face, smoothing her cheek. “Oh yes,” I continue. “Because when the camera gets really, really close, there’s no amount of makeup in the world that can substitute for radiant skin.” She looks past me, at her reflection in the bar mirror. “Think about it. All the great screen legends had beautiful skin,” I say. “Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, Rita Hayworth, Vivien Leigh, Ava Gardner. Movie stars live for the close-up, and the close-up never lies.” <