JACK O’CONNELL – The Skin Palace. Quisigamond #3, Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1996. No paperback edition.

   O’Connell has written two of the strangest pieces of   crime fiction I’ve come across in the last few years, Box 9 and Wireless. Both set in the decaying Massachusetts town of Quinsigamond, each featured a cast of characters that could charitably be described as “strange”, and were written in a tone that approached the apocalyptic at times. I mostly liked them, but there’s been little discussion of them in the mystery press that I’ve seen.

   Here there is Sylvia, a strange young woman obsessed with celluloid images who has drifted from one phase of her life to another. Then, there’s Jakob, the son of a Polish immigrant gangster equally obsessed with film-making, who has trouble seeing the world through anything but a lens. There’s Schick, a porno film-maker with visions of cinematic grandeur. And there’s Propp, a mythical (?) photographer and cult figure. Like gas molecules in a pressure chamber, they heat and move and ricochet off each other until critical pressure is reached, and then . . .

   He’s written three strange ones now.  This really isn’t a book to try to review in a paragraph or so; either you just say “it’s strange,” or you should spend a page or two on it. It’s full of impossibilities, improbabilities. and off-center characters, and though you may wonder what it was  all about as much at the end as all the way through, it’s at least partially about taking pictures and making pictures, and ways of looking at life.

   It’s totally non-genre in its approach, and in the storytelling, and how much you like it will depend on how deeply you can immerse yourself in O’Connell’s flickering, out-of-focus world.  Easy read? No. Worthwhile for you? You won’t know until you’re done.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #22, November 1995