Adam Pepper is good. Skin Games is the third book I have read by him, and, like the other two times, I was immediately pulled in by his prose and the way he can set the tone to a story. Skin Games starts of with a couple of mob enforcers harassing a restaurant for protection money. The daughter of the restaurant owner is told to go to a man she knows as Mr. Skin for help, but she wants to know why he is willing to help her. From here we have a narrative within the story told by the central character, Mr. Skin, or Sean as we are soon to learn. It is a brutal story told in a very matter of fact, almost emotionless, way. With this, Pepper is able to explore several characters that really are not good people, but perhaps they were made that way by their circumstances. We have Sean who was abandoned by his father and then progresses into worse and worse life choices, but for him this is a natural progression. Sean's mother is perhaps the most sympathetic character doing what she thinks she has to in order to survive, then there is Nicole. Nicole, while not outwardly bad, is very self centered and manipulative; she doesn't seem to grasp how her actions will affect others.
What I like most about this book is it's straight-forwardness; Pepper never once tries to use his role as the author to push his own opinions of the characters on the reader. He simply lays them bare and we see everything through the eyes of Sean and it allows the reader time to think and form their own opinions. What actions are ever justified when you are trying to find a way out of poverty, when there are no other role models other than gangsters? It is an interesting story format to use; Pepper delivers an entertaining and dark read but at the same time seems to have put forth something that begs to be thought about once you are done. The novel simply is; the reader can get out of it whatever they choose. It can be something that lends fodder for debate about poverty and crime and it's effects on the community, or simply an entertaining, easy read. The choice is yours.
I give it five cocktails.