Title: Beneath the Skin
Author: Melissa James
Published: July 24th 2017
Publisher: Harlequin Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Romance, Suspense
Rating: 4 stars
Flying Doctor Elly Lavender has spent years on the run from a violent stalker. Her obsessive former patient will do anything and threaten anyone in his campaign to force her to love him. When her most recent cover is blown, she runs for help to the childhood friend she could never get out of her mind – outback cop Adam Jepson.
Isolated, hurting, all Adam Jepson wants is to forget. After the deaths of his wife and son three years before, he’s moved to the outback with his young daughter, Zoe, to put the past behind him for good. But when Elly walks into his station, she reminds him of all the childhood joy and love he’d forgotten. Soon, he’s lost in a desire he never knew could exist. And while his guilt at leaving Elly behind years ago, and the vow he’d made to his dying wife, means he can never be the man she needs, he can’t stop caring, can’t stop trying to make Elly’s life right. Though the whole town seems against them, he can’t stop wanting the forbidden.
But when anonymous harassment escalates to murder, Elly knows her presence in Macks Lake has put Adam and Zoe’s lives at risk. Everyone’s safer if she remains alone – a fact that her stalker is very much counting on as he gets ever closer to his prey…
Australian romantic suspense is one of my favourite genres and it is always a pleasure when a new writer emerges on the scene. Beneath the Skin is written by Australian author Melissa James, who is an established author also writing under the name of Lisa Chaplin. After achieving publishing success with Mills & Boon romance titles and ancient historical fiction, Melissa James has now turned her hand to contemporary Australian fiction, with a focus on romantic suspense.
In this spellbinding outback suspense novel, we meet Elly Lavender, who is a flying doctor. Elly has a violent stalker on her tail and as a result, she has had to flee from one place to another, to avoid detection. When Elly’s last secret place of hiding is exposed, she decides to seek help from an old childhood friend Adam Jepson, who also happens to be a police officer. However, Adam has personal demons of his own, following the loss of his wife and son three years ago. Adam now lives a quiet life in the outback with Zoe, his only daughter and family left. When Elly re-enters his life, Adam wrestles between the guilt he feels over not helping Elly enough years ago and the loyalty he still has to his wife. With high emotion and forbidden attraction on the cards for Elly and Adam, they must also navigate a town which is highly against their pairing, contend with a murder and thwart a very determined stalker. All these strains put Adam’s family and this couple’s lives at risk, if they are to give in to their passions and move to a future together.
Beneath the Skin is my introduction to the work of Melissa James and I do hope it marks the start of a new reading relationship with this skilled Australian writer. As soon as I had a glimpse of the cover and blurb of this book, I was certain I was going to enjoy reading Beneath the Skin. It is a pleasure to read a suspense novel that is written and presented well. Melissa James has a strong writing style that is ideally suited to the genre in which she is writing, Australian romantic suspense. What I appreciated most about this book was the drip feed style suspense aspect in this book, which aided in cracking the secrets and twists hidden within this novel. I will admit to having to sneak more page and chapter in while I was reading this hooking novel!
I loved that Beneath the Skin offered the reader a fine example of Australian romantic suspense, but at the same time, it was novel that was skilfully able to incorporate a number of sub or connecting genres within the book’s consuming plot. With sidelines of crime, romance, culture, Australian history, family, loss and mental illness at the core of this novel, it is extremely hard not to get swept up in the plot of Beneath the Skin. Those who enjoy more romance in their romantic suspense novels will the pleased with this offering. There is plenty of sexual tension evident in this book and the off-limits romance that develops between the leads presents the reader with an array of relationship woes and passionate scenes to contend with!
One of the shining aspects of Beneath the Skin and I topic I hold in high regard is the history and the focus on our ongoing state of relations with the indigenous population. James uses Beneath the Skin as a vehicle to highlight our treatment of the indigenous, both in our shameful past and the present day. Through the characters in this novel and the exploration James offers into their pasts, we get a glimpse into the heartbreaking stolen generation. James uses Beneath the Skin as a means to highlight the impact that this shameful policy has had on each generation and family touched by this government measure. It is a contentious issue and one that often incites very passionate viewpoints. For me personally, in reference to this novel, I believe James handled this aspect of the novel with the exact level of poise and insight it deserves.
Characterisation is solid in Beneath the Skin. Elly in particular is a protagonist crafted with care and detail. It is easy to sympathise with the awful predicament Elly found herself in, constantly living in fear of her life due to her stalker. James employs the use of an effective style of narration, first person, which alternates between four main players in the story. This style of narration gives James the room to really get beneath the skin of her key protagonists and consequently gives the reader a solid understanding of the thoughts and inner processes of each of the characters James is working to portray. The stalker is one of these characters that James is able to bring to life and I found his narration quite chilling.
Beneath the Skin is a novel packed with relevant issues that highlight the problems faced by many outback remote communities. James works to build our sense of understanding for the medical strains and lack of essential services faced by remote communities such as Macks Lake. Adam’s position as an outback cop helps to construct an appreciation for the work conditions remote area police officers face. It is clear in these aspects of the plot that hardship is a part of the fabric in these isolated outback communities.
A first-rate Australian romantic suspense novel, Beneath the Skin is a book that kept my eyes glued to the pages of this unfolding tension filled story. Melissa James has demonstrated that she is an author to watch in the contemporary Australian fiction field with this polished title.
Beneath the Skin by Melissa James was published in July 2017 by Harlequin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Beneath the Skin, Melissa James, visit here.
*I wish to thank Harlequin Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.