#3 “Skinjob” by Bruce McCabe

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  1. City of Heavenly Fire – Cassandra Clare
  2. Every Word – Ellie Marney
  3. Skinjob – Bruce McCabe
    i.     Bloodlines – Richelle Mead
    ii.   The Golden Lily – Richelle Mead
    iii. The Indigo Spell – Richelle Mead
    iv. The Fiery Heart – Richelle Mead
  4. Silver Shadows – Richelle Mead
  5. Looking For Alibrandi – Melina Marchetta
  6. Goose – Dawn O’Porter
  7. Run – Gregg Olsen
  8. Love Letters to the Dead – Ava Dellaira
  9. Stoner – John Williams
  10. The Wrong Girl – Zoë Foster
  11. A Fatal Tide – Steve Sailah
  12. Murder in Mississippi – John Safran
  13. Elianne – Judy Nunn
  14. Being Jade – Kate Belle
  15. Martha in the Mirror – Justin Richards
  16. Shining Darkness – Mark Michalowski
  17. The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  18. Divergent – Veronica Roth
  19. Insurgent – Veronica Roth
  20. Allegiant – Veronica Roth
  21. The Messenger – Markus Zusak
  22. Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman
  23. The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons
  24. Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell
  25. NOS4R2 – Joe Hill
  26. The Gospel of Loki – Joanne M. Harris
  27. Hades – Candice Fox
  28. Last Night at Chateau Marmont – Lauren Weisberger
  29. Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher
  30. Are You Seeing Me? – Darren Groth

Disclaimer: I am not a crime reader. Crime fiction, with all of its car chases, suspects, and red herrings, is unfamiliar to me. I haven’t so much as read any of Agatha Christie’s classic novels. The closest I come to crime fiction is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. And I only started to read those because  I’m in love with Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the aloof detective. So please go into my “review” with this in mind.

The main reason that I tend to shy away from crime fiction is because the stories are plot-driven. Most all of the books I read are character-driven. What’s the difference, you may ask? Well, when you can come away from a book and know everything about a character’s past, secrets, and fears, you have just read a character-driven story. Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices? Character-driven.

I am not, in anyway, saying that one kind of story is better than the other. I just tend to choose character-driven work. This leaves me at a disadvantage when it comes to crime fiction: there isn’t time to get into a character’s head, and I’m used to getting to know my characters.

So the realisation that, after reading the final page of Skinjob, I didn’t really know anything about our main character Daniel Madsen or his associate, Shahida Sanayei, beyond what was strictly necessary to the plot, it sat a little uncomfortably with me. What McCabe managed to do instead, however, was to capture the essence of his characters via their actions. While we may not know whether Madsen was married/divorced/or a terminal bachelor, or whether Sanayei (or Shari, as she’s mostly called throughout the novel) is a child of divorce, we know how they react in most situations, what drives them, and what their limits are. And that is quite a feat, given the complex plot of the book.

screen-shot-2014-05-21-at-1-40-49-pmBacktracking a little, I have been excited for this book since #NBBF14. One of the authors who spoke to us was none other than Bruce McCabe himself. He was such an impassioned speaker, who really loved his work and was so grateful to his readers, that I couldn’t wait to get stuck into Skinjob. Unfortunately, I was booked out (pun possibly intended) with the re-reading of The Mortal Instruments in anticipation of City of Heavenly Fire and so I have only just been able to venture into worlds that don’t belong to Cassandra Clare.

Although I may not read crime, I do watch it: NCIS, Castle, Sherlock, and occasionally, Elementary. The opening scenes of the book, where there was nothing but chaos and confusion in the SFPD’s (San Francisco Police Department) offices following a bombing, were easy to imagine because I had a basic understanding of how the scene would be played out. McCabe’s ability to invoke a scene with minimal description didn’t hurt too much either!

Before I go on I just want to point out how important it was, to me, that McCabe didn’t set his novel in Australia. Many Australian writers have a tendency to set their novels in their native land, which I understand and respect. Australia isn’t very well represented on the global literary scale, and I love seeing our little Aussie-isms slip into novels. But Aussies can write other places as well: it is allowed. Just like American authors can write about other countries. We don’t have to be limited by our heritage.

OK, enough of that. Let’s get stuck in.

Skinjob is set in the year 2019 where FBI agents can carry portable lie detectors called HAMDAs, or Handheld Multimodal Detection Arrays; brothels are being phased out by “dollhouses”, a place where prostitutes have been replaced by incredibly lifelike sex dolls (“skinjobs”) who look, move, and groan like real women; and there is a new religion called NeChristo, or the New Christian Organisation of America, that connects all of its followers via social media ear pieces called G-Rings and operates more like a business than a church.

The problem with setting a story in the future, no matter how “near” that future may be is that the author leaves themselves very little choice but to “info-dump”  essential information onto the reader. There were a few passages very early on in the book that were mostly exposition. These passages were necessary for me to understand what was going on, and there was really no other way to drop the information, but it is still one of those things that we readers have to deal with. It is lucky, though, that the background information was so interesting. Unlike some of the high-fantasy novels I have attempted to read, where the info-dumping is boring and feels unnecessary.

The plot is pretty explosive: a “dollhouse” gets bombed, a religious organisation starts copping the blame, and the FBI agents investigating the crime can use lie detectors. If that doesn’t sell you on this book, then I don’t know how else to do it.
Oh, right: JK Rowling’s literary agent, Christopher Little, came across this book when it was a self-published book that McCabe and his team had put together and he approached McCabe to become one of his clients.

There. Now go buy this book.

What I want to talk about, mostly, was the ingenious invention of NeChristo. What we, the readers, see is an organisation. We don’t really see a church. I don’t remember ever reading the word “God”. The religion itself seems to be run more for revenue purposes than any serious religious intent. Something that is underlined in its foundation story:

NeChristo … had started out as a small independent church in Dallas, and its founder was an ex-management consultant named Brandt Engels … Engels had wanted to find out whether making connections between compatible people – for friendship, partnership, romance or marriage – could form the central doctrine of a church.

All of the pastors are filthy rich. Members of the NeChristo faith are called to make rather large donations during services. In my church growing up, the donation baskets were filled with discreet little envelopes in which parishioners placed whatever amount they felt comfortable giving. In NeChristo churches, the donation baskets are designed so that coin donations fall straight through them and “shame” the selfish donor.

I can’t help but feeling that NeChristo will actually come to fruition one day: when the churches finally realise that the modern world can be used to attract people to their various beliefs. But what interested me most was how businesslike the pastors were. They all came off as CEOs, rather than men of the cloth. We didn’t get many references to faith and that truly surprised me. I loved it.

The dollhouses were also incredibly thought-provoking. The dolls are made to be almost indistinguishable from real people. So when patrons of the dollhouses beat the dolls, slap them, essentially rape them, is it wrong? If the doll doesn’t actually experience pain or emotion, is the man inflicting the pain still committing sexual assault? Are patrons still considered paedophiles if they’re fucking a “kiddie doll” as opposed to a real child? I honestly wasn’t sure. It seems to me that if the urges are there then the perpetrators are still sex criminals. BUT if they release these urges on “skinjobs” instead of real people, isn’t that a victimless crime?

Seriously, what do you guys think?

This novel raised a lot of issues that I think will actually come up in the next few years, and made me question my own concept of morality. Not only this, but it also made me wonder about the future of religion.

There is nothing better than a book that simply makes you think.

The only drawback is that I kind of saw the ending coming. I didn’t realise that until the big reveal happened and I felt underwhelmed. Basically, the book couldn’t end any other way. The ending was shocking in the same way that politician’s lies are shocking: outrageous, appalling, but predictable.
But, really, that is my only problem with this book. Well, that and the character-driven versus plot-driven thing, but that’s my issue.

★★★★

 

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About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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One Response to #3 “Skinjob” by Bruce McCabe

  1. Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon everyday.
    It will always be useful to read through articles from other writers and practice a little something from their websites.

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