The answer, it appears when the New Delhi police find the body of a raped and mutilated woman, is nothing at all.
Crime fiction at its best uses crime as a periscope to peek around the dark corners of a society, where the things we prefer not to think about lurk. The first sign of what’s behind the corner that You Beneath Your Skin is looking round is the crime itself: the dead woman’s face has been burned off with acid, revealing what’s beneath her skin in the gruesomely literal way possible. When an ambitious policeman, Jatin Bhatt, is persuaded to investigate he is confronted with what lurks beneath the skin of the society he owes his success to.
The theme of the shattered façade runs throughout You Beneath Your Skin, alongside its protagonists’ exploration of the layered power structures of New Delhi. We see the upper echelons of the society as Jatin curries favour with his well-connected father-in-law, but we also see the byzantine hierarchies of the slums. The ruler of that hierarchy may not live in a palace, but his power is more absolute than the prime minister’s: if those with influence have no regard for the most powerful man in the slum, they’ll have even less interest in helping whoever is under his sandal.
While it’s the exploration of power and society that makes You Beneath Your Skin stand out, I kept reading it because it’s a rollicking good crime thriller. The plot twists and turns as it throws its three protagonists around those metaphorical dark corners, and a few literal ones as well.
Different readers are likely to have different favourites, but I found Jatin the most engaging of the trio as he struggles to maintain a joyless marriage that he maintains for the sake of his son and his father-in-law’s approval while wondering if his ambition is worth the sacrifice of his happiness and the fundamental decency that he’s never quite got used to compromising.
On a different day, I might have picked Jatin’s sister, Maya, a private detective troubled by her own uneven skin. Then there’s Anjali, Jatin’s lover, a clinical psychologist who does her best to help the troubled children of New Delhi while frustrated by her inability to connect with her autistic son.
You Beneath Your Skin is a rollicking read of a crime thriller, but it’s something much more than that if you accept its tacit invitation to peek behind its own façade.