Imagine a person sick enough to buy kidnapped women, tattoo them like animals and then release them as sporting prey. That’s the basis of D.P. Lyle’s aptly titled new thriller Skin in the Game (Suspense Publishing), and it’s a premise so horrific and disturbing you’ll have to stop at times to take a breath.
You’ll keep reading in large part because you can’t imagine an antagonist who’s more deserving of an unhappy ending, and you’ll want to know if the story turns out that way.
Ultimately, Skin in the Game is about hunting and pits those who hunt in the garden of good against those who choose the garden of evil. Like rubberneckers at a traffic accident, we follow the killer and his demented friends stalking women forced to run for their lives. However, the hunters become the hunted thanks to the private investigative team of Bobby Cain and Harper McCoy.
A veteran thriller writer and teacher on the art of writing crime fiction, Lyle uses Skin in the Game to introduce these two new heroes, and the Cain-McCoy pairing offers rich dynamics for future stories.
Raised by itinerant gypsies as siblings, Cain and McCoy are both seasoned veterans of dark operations who left government service to become private investigative “fixers” who don’t hesitate to use extra-normal procedures to get the results their clients want. Their sibling relationship provides an interesting departure from the usual special-ops buddy pairings or male-female partnerships that mainly focus on sexual tension. Bobby Cain also destroys the cliché about never bringing a knife to a gunfight. His knife-tossing superpower serves him well and sharpens the story (pun intended).
As the story opens, Cain is enlisted by retired Gen. William Kessler, a legendary figure in military and espionage circles who helped Cain launch his career, to locate his missing granddaughter. Cindy Grant is a sophomore at Vanderbilt University, and Cain and McCoy soon discover alarming details: She was lured into joining several other attractive coeds who work as escorts to rich men. It seemed like a lark; a chance for some thrills and easy money. Instead, Cindy has become a victim of human trafficking, setting off a chain of events that’s far worse than Kessler could ever imagine.
Once the General learns the brutal details, it reinforces his determination that Cain and McCoy must find the perpetrators and deal with them using suffering at least equal to the pain inflicted. Going back and forth between Nashville and rural Tennessee, they identify possible suspects. Evidence is scant, so they take big risks to get closer to the human trafficking network recruiting the young women. Rural Tennessee settings are important parts of the story. Cain and McCoy find themselves operating on the killer’s home turf.
Fortunately for them, most of the bad actors in this story aren’t brilliant opponents. Although their actions are profoundly evil, they do things that more sophisticated or thoughtful criminals wouldn’t do. That makes some of the set pieces less plausible and a bit more predictable. But it won’t stop you from reading to the end.
Cain and McCoy are strong believers in the “ends justify the means” school of moral choices. Although the book is certainly not science fiction, its broad strokes reminded me of the reboot of Battlestar Galactica, a sci-fi series that came of age shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and often had its characters face dilemmas in which they had to decide if extreme measures were justified to combat extreme evil.
Watching Lyle’s main characters face such choices provides extra dimension and energy to the story. How far will the sibling team go to carry out the demands of Gen. Kessler and their own definitions of justice? In their future adventures, it won’t be surprising if Cain and McCoy again face the issue of whether “revenge” and “justice” can truly be synonyms, or at least live as neighbors on the same street.
D.P. Lyle, MD is the Amazon #1 Bestselling, Macavity and Benjamin Franklin Silver Award winning, and Edgar (2), Shamus, Agatha, Anthony, Scribe, USA Today Best Book Award (2), and Foreward INDIES Book of the Year nominated author. He has written many non-fiction books as well as numerous works of fiction, including the SAMANTHA CODY, DUB WALKER, JAKE LONGLY, and CAIN/HARPER thriller series, and the ROYAL PAINS media tie-in novels. His essay on Jules Verne’s THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND appears in THRILLERS: 100 MUST READS and his short story “Even Steven” in ITW’s anthology THRILLER 3: LOVE IS MURDER. He served as Editor for the Southern California Writers Association’s short story anthology, IT’S ALL IN THE STORY as well as contributing the story “Splash.” His short story “Bottom Line” appears in th Sherlock Holmes inspired anthology FOR THE SAKE OF THE GAME.
He has worked with many novelists and with the writers of popular television shows such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Pretty Little Liars.
Dennis Hetzel is the author of two award-winning thrillers, Killing the Curse and Season of Lies, that blend the worlds of politics and sports. His third novel, Azalea Bluff, is scheduled for publication in early 2021 by Headline Books. He began his career as a weekly newspaper sports editor near his native Chicago and became an award-winning reporter, editor and newspaper publisher before retiring in 2019 as executive director of the Ohio News Media Association. He also taught journalism at Penn State and Temple universities. He has a degree in political science from Western Illinois University. His firm, Fresh Angle Communications, provides writing, editing and government relations consulting. He lives in Holden Beach NC. To learn more, visit his website.