A Devil Under the Skin is the third in Lipska’s East London based series, featuring PI Janusz Kiszka and DC Natalie Kershaw. This book is a mixture of police procedural (investigation) and thriller (a race against the clock to prevent a event).
The book opens with Janusz’s life looking like it’s on the up. His long term ‘girlfriend’, Kasia Fisher, has finally agreed to leave her husband and move in with him, and his work as a private investigator, helping the Polish community, is going well. Then Kasia vanishes and Janusz’s new-found stability and optimism look shaky. And when Janusz starts to investigate, he learns that her husband is also missing. Refusing to believe that Kasia has changed her mind about their relationship, he is convinced that either her husband has discovered her plan to leave him and has kidnapped her to prevent this – or she has come to harm.
Natalie Kershaw, an armed response team officer, has not had an easy time of late. Having survived a stabbing, she was then involved in a shooting which led to an internal inquiry. Now absolved of blame, she is perplexed and angry to find herself suspended and required to attend psychotherapy before she can resume armed duties. An old contact of Janusz’s, Natalie is pleased to hear from him when he asks her to help find Kasia.
When a series of violent deaths begin to look suspicious, Janusz fears that there is a brutal murderer at large, and wonders whether there may be a connection with Kasia’s abduction. As he and Kershaw try to locate Kasia, things become increasingly sinister. This time it is personal for Janusz, and the reality of Kasia’s situation is far worse than he could ever have imagined, involving … No, I’m not going to spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that Janusz is desperate to find her alive and is forced to make a decision which will affect the rest of his life.
I really enjoyed the first two books in this innovative series, and they keep getting better and better. I firmly believe that Lipska deserves to be on bestseller lists and award nominations. Her writing has a unique style which is both clever and funny and this makes it a pleasure to read. For me, what marks out her style is that many of her phrases draw on multiple reference sources, and word choices are evocative and on trend. Sometimes too much humour in a crime novel can detract from the seriousness of the themes, or the grittiness of the setting. It can also undermine moments of pathos. However, Lipska has a wonderful knack for getting the humour timing and amount right. A number of scenes are poignant, and I was right there, in the story, rooting for ‘fixer’, Janusz.
Something else which makes A Devil Under the Skin (and the others in this series) stand out is the characters. Janusz is lovable and kind. He jokes around but is extremely smart and capable. Kershaw is determined to find her niche within the police service, and to reconcile herself with the recent professional events, and I admire her courage. Although very different personalities, and from different backgrounds (Natalie is a native East Londoner), their relationship works well. I have also developed a soft spot for Janusz’s friend, Oskar. Some of their exchanges are pure comedy genius. They have a strong friendship, based on accepting each other. In addition, Lipska portrays the concerns and traditions of the Polish community with great affection, and their many assets. Having lived and worked in East London, I can visualise everything she shows us.
I can see why the Kiszka & Kershaw series has been optioned by BBC Drama as a potential TV show and I hope that these fabulous characters make it onto our screens.
A Devil Under the Skin deals with some brutal realities about contemporary multi-cultural society and shows how the legacies of the past can take a long time to recede. It is intelligently written, and combines wonderful humour and genuine pathos.
My review copy was obtained from NetGalley. Thank you to author and publisher.
Anya Lipska can be found here
Vicky Newham © 2015