REVIEW OF SKIN GAME BY J.D. ALLEN

Jim Bean is a Las Vegas based private investigator who gets paid to uncover secrets. Specializing in small time insurance and infidelity cases, Bean makes a decent enough living to keep him in booze and Ms. Annie in kitty chow. While he is an expert in uncovering secrets, he is also a man buried in secrets. Eight years earlier, Bean had been a student in Columbus, Ohio. “Jim Bean” didn’t even exist yet. Korey Anders was a grad student who had a dream of ending up in the FBI. Those dreams had come crashing down when he had been accused of kidnapping and assault. Everyone was convinced Korey had done it. No one believed he was innocent, not even Erica. When the investigation was concluded, Korey was a free man. Free, but forever tainted by accusation. Forever betrayed by Erica’s distrust. Eventually, Korey Anders left Columbus. And Jim Bean hung out his PI shingle in his new agency in Las Vegas.

In a very “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all world, she walks into mine” moment, Bean is shocked when Erica walks right into the home of the low life he’s being paid to watch. It turns out Erica’s sister, Chris Floyd, has gone missing. Chris had also ended up in Las Vegas, working in the city’s overwhelmed social services department. When all traditional routes turned up empty, Erica chose to pick up the trail herself. That trail leads her from her home in Boston to Las Vegas, and from Las Vegas to Jim Bean. Las Vegas is truly the place where lost souls end up. These souls either succeed, sink, or end up reinventing themselves. Very few in J.D. Allen’s Las Vegas succeed.

Jim Bean has reinvented himself.

Chris Floyd is dedicated to helping those that sink.

Now it looks like Bean and Erica are set against those that are preying on those that sink: human traffickers.

As Bean, Erica, and their allies dig deeper and deeper into Chris’s disappearance, they get a first-hand look into the horror of human trafficking. They see the evil that is preying below the glitz of Las Vegas, and they see those that are working to end it. Is Chris Floyd still alive? And if so, can she overcome the horror of her ordeal?

J.D. Allen sets up all of these various plot threads in a very organic way. Nothing is forced. Exposition, of which there is a lot, is delivered very naturally. That being said, the story really sparks when the plot allows Allen to focus on Bean and Erica. Watching them circle each other, while Bean wrestles with his anger from Erica’s past betrayal versus the reality of the danger that Chris is in is one of the most engaging aspects of the story. While SKIN GAME is a very solid adventure through the Las Vegas underworld, I do think readers will appreciate it more after reading 19 SOULS first.

SKIN GAME sports one of the most striking covers I’ve seen in some time. This is a cover that really stands out amid a shelf that sometimes looks rather bland. The Midnight Ink team of Bob Gaul and Shira Atakpu should be commended.

Dan Malmon