THE SKIN BENEATH by Nairne Holtz (Insomniac), 265 pages, $21.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Sometimes you're way too tired to read one of the books on your bedside table. Then there are those books that make you fight to keep your eyes open hoping you'll get one more clue to what will happen next. The Skin Beneath, by Montreal first-time novelist Nairne Holtz, is one of those page-turners.
The first chapter begins with a bang - we meet Sam O'Connor, a feisty little butch from Toronto who believes her wayward sister Chloe overdosed at New York's Chelsea Hotel five years earlier. She receives an anonymous postcard that claims Chloe died while investigating a political conspiracy and that her death was no accident.
Sam decides to retrace Chloe's last steps, starting in Montreal. She meets posturing mama's boy pimps who take her to Hell's Angels parties, lovable conspiracy nuts at the anarchist bookstore and vegan suburban rave chicks who know more then they let on.
None of the crazy characters are stereotypes of the underworld - they're as complicated and mysterious as the very plot Sam is trying to uncover. Ultimately, the biggest mystery is Chloe's ex-roommate Romey, a hot high femme whom Sam falls for.
Holtz has a gift for writing spicy sex scenes and believable dyke drama that don't make you feel like you're reading a cheesy lesbian novel from the early 90s. She skilfully evokes Montreal's cabaret culture of preening dyke hipsters as well as the 20-something slackers whom she calls yuffies (young urban failures).
Sam follows leads on the conspiracy - Chloe was investigating a government cover-up surrounding the Gulf War - to Detroit and New York City, where she is nearly killed trying to find the answers.
Set aside an afternoon and read it in one sitting. You won't be able to stop once you've started.