Skin River Steven Sidor (St. Martin’s Minotaur paperback $6.99)
When Steve Hamilton talks, people listen. He always goes out of his way to support other worthy writers and after his signings there’s always a rush to pick up the books he’s mentioned. He usually likes authors like Denise Mina whose work is a little darker than his (though, believe me, I’ve read the forthcoming Alex McKnight and it is plenty dark), but I’m no different than the crowd – when he touted a guy named Steven Sidor in a recent interview I had to seek Sidor out, and I’m glad I did.
Skin River, Sidor’s first book, features Buddy Bayes, a protagonist who, like many created by the new wave of guy writers like Hamilton, Jon King and Craig Johnson, is a middle aged man with a problematic past who, mostly by choice, finds himself isolated and alone in the middle of nowhere, in Buddy’s case the past being criminal and the nowhere rural Wisconsin. When he discovers a severed hand in the Skin River he is drawn into the horrors surrounding a local serial killer who calls himself the Goatskinner. It becomes even more personal when the Goatskinner goes after one of the few people close to Buddy and the clueless sheriff becomes convinced Buddy is the culprit.
It’s not a perfect effort – there’s too much focus on the not quite credible and very icky villain (Hannibal Lecter has a lot to answer for) and Sidor, though his prose is lyrical and smooth, tends to over-describe at times (we know how to light a cigarette, thanks), but Skin River draws the reader in masterfully and delivers a great ride all the way to the slam bang ending. There’s not much mystery, but a lot of suspense and action and even a jolt of a coda.
Although Buddy would seem to be an ideal series character who could stand to be developed further, Sidon’s second novel Bone Factory features different protagonists, which, take my advice, is no way to succeed in the mystery game. All in all, though, Sidon is an yet another example of why we should always listen to Steve Hamilton.