WSFA Press, 2013 (originally published 1988), 143 pages
Randi Wade's world is spiraling into a dark labyrinth of secrets and lies. Her only friend is keeping something from her. Innocent victims are being savagely attacked and left for dead, all but their skins. There is an eerie connection between the crime scenes and her own father's murder nearly twenty years before, unsolved to this day. Despite this, Chief of Police Joe Urquhart, her father's former partner and best friend, beckons her to drop the case, drop everything. Is he protecting her, or something else?
As the case unfolds, Randi is pulled ever closer to realizing her darkest fear: that werewolves do exist, and they'll do anything necessary to keep their secrets safe in this once quiet town... Even if it means killing their own. All the while, an eccentric but powerful family watches closely from inside the black iron gates of Blackstone Manor, as the horrendous truth behind it all begins to bubble toward the top.
Skin Trade was first published in 1988, but the only thing that gives it away if you read it today is the lack of cell phones, which, as is often the case in stories written before they became common, would open some inconvenient plot holes if they existed. Otherwise, it would fit into the contemporary urban fantasy market just fine. It also demonstrates quite clearly how much better a writer George R. R. Martin is than Jim Butcher or Carrie Vaughn or Laurell K. Hamilton; had Martin continued this series, he probably would have eclipsed all of them.
This is a werewolf story, with werewolves as both villains and victims. The two main characters are Randi Wade, whose cop father was killed sixteen years ago by "a wild animal," and her friend Willie, a lecherous, asthmatic, diabetic collection agent. Who also happens to be a lycanthrope.
Randi's father died while investigating a series of child killings. Now, years later, the suspect in that case is back in town, coinciding with the appearance of a serial killer who skins his victims.
Randi has baggage, Willie has a secret, and they run through a variety of a gruesome discoveries and dig up secrets and enemies before the final bloody confrontation with something worse than a werewolf.
This novella, originally written for a horror anthology, does not do a lot of worldbuilding, and the ending is a little abrupt and unresolved, but Randi and Willie have already come to life enough to make me wish Martin had written more stories about them.
Verdict: Recommended for all horror and urban fantasy fans. As a stand-alone novella, Skin Trade doesn't quite fully develop its world and its characters, but if you like urban fantasy that is not paranormal romance, it might make you wish George R. R. Martin hadn't gotten distracted with that little epic fantasy series of his.
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