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Skin Games
by Adam Pepper

Tea, flowers and an open book on a table in the garden - Used to feature my book reviews


Cover image of the book 'Skin Games' by author Adam PepperWhen a mafia princess falls for a two-bit hoodlum an unhappy don plays some rough games in order to separate the two lovers.

Sean O’Donnell is a man who always keeps his word, especially to a lady. 

His good-for-nothing old man left his mother flat. 

When she gets ill, Sean assures her that he will never be like his father; if he makes a promise he will keep it, no matter what the cost. 

When local mob boss Mario Torretta’s daughter Nicole falls for Sean, the Don is not pleased, and makes it known that Sean is not good enough for his princess. 

However, Nicole is in love and begs Sean to stick by her. 

Once Sean gives his word, no amount of pressure from the Don will weaken his resolve. 

Sean will endure and persevere to keep his promise to Nicole, and to his mother.

Cover image of the book 'Skin Games' by author Adam Pepper


photograph of author Adam PepperAdam doesn’t seem to talk about himself an awful lot. His site ‘bio’ is remarkably impersonal, short and sweet, but I’ll give you the official potted version anyway:

At times disturbing and grim, others raunchy and comical, Adam Pepper’s work is known for a unique blend of horror, suspense and speculative fiction. 

Memoria, Adam’s debut novel, reached number 1 on the Dark Delicacies Best Seller list and received rave reviews from Cemetery Dance and Chronicle. 

Super Fetus, his outrageous Bizarro novella was called “In-your-face, allegorical social commentary” by esteemed reviewer, Paul Goat Allen. 

His quick-hitting short work has appeared in genre magazines including THE BEST OF HORRORFIND, Vol. 2 and SPACE AND TIME. 

Adam’s non-fiction credits span from NEW WOMAN MAGAZINE to THE JOURNAL NEWS.

“I don’t consider myself strictly a horror author, but everything I do has a dark and cynical slant. That’s the worldview I bring to my fiction. I’ve always been attracted to bleak and gritty plots filled with disenchanted and alienated characters. I’m a fan of the underdog, of the underestimated and underappreciated. That’s just me.”

Cover image of the book 'Skin Games' by author Adam Pepper


“It was truly a once in a lifetime moment. My father was proud of me. Visibly, noticeably proud”

Cover image of the book 'Skin Games' by author Adam Pepper


‘Rough Justice, Sweet Revenge, Inevitable Retribution’

The author describes this book as a crime/drama, yet, in my opinion, it is so much more. Yes there is crime and drama in spades, but there is no escaping Adam’s trademark acerbic wit and his propensity for indulging in the thrills and horror of a story, which had me on the edge of my seat all the while I was reading.

One small caveat… As you would expect from a story of this nature, there are a couple of sexual references, although these are not particularly graphic. There are also several acts of violence, which are described in reasonably graphic detail. All are completely within the context of the overall story and none are gratuitously added as an unnecessary enhancement to the plot.

The main focus of the book is Sean, (Shamrock), (Skin)’s absorbing and compelling personal story, which had me engrossed as I became more and more embroiled in his absorbing life. His character is complex and multi-dimensional. He has a strength and fierce loyalty well beyond his years, in his determination that he should never turn out to have inherited any of his fathers weak and wastrel traits. His word is his bond, no matter to whom he has made his pledge or promise. So firm is he in his beliefs, that I found myself almost ‘rooting’ for him, even whilst he was carrying out unspeakable acts of cruelty and retribution, on behalf of the mob, towards often very vulnerable people, although the sympathetic and compassionate side of his character often shines through his facade and he does stand up to his masters on more than one occasion, taking their punishment for this disobedience without complaint.

Sean has a weakness though and one which will ultimately cost him dearly. Nicole, the Don’s spoilt, petulant and demanding daughter. Her character was so sharply defined, that I found most of the scenes with her in, wanting to slap her for her pathetic attempts at trying to empathise with Sean, whilst all the while, winding him around her little finger, so that she can cajole him into granting her every stupid whim. Don’t get me wrong, I also wanted to shake Sean until his brains rattled, in the hope that he would actually come to his senses and start to see her for what she really was. I think that for both of them, the underlying reality of an impossible situation and a relationship that isn’t going anywhere, because the Don’s vice-like grip on power, and his financial and emotional hold over his motherless daughter is just too strong, is an outcome that they both know is inevitable and they are also both only too aware of which one of them will suffer for their disobedience.

The supporting cast of characters are, to a person, complex studies of human behaviour, who are all linked in some way to the violence and complexity of the rule of the mob. Jealousy and rivalry are seemingly traits of the job, with each almost trying to outdo the other in the heinousness of their actions and the lengths which they will go to, to ‘curry favour’ with their boss.

The story also invokes a great sense of ‘place’ and ‘time’. New York shouts from the pages, authentic in its physical detail, from ‘Throggs Neck’ to the ‘Meatpacking District’ and with the characters identifying with and absorbing into their own defined and protected territory. So much so that I could almost imagine myself there, living in fear and awe of these shadowy figures, as they go about their disturbing business of extortion and ‘protection’, amongst the fearful members of those communities.

The plot is action-packed and fast-paced, involving the reader in an experience which is authentic and disturbing, particularly when confronted with Mario, ‘The Don’, who has a justice system which transcends any official channels and codes of conduct and who demands a loyalty from his employees which is almost disturbing in its intensity and depth. However, Mario also has one weakness, his daughter Nicole. No demand from her is too much, no wish too much to grant .. until it comes to her choice of a partner who may have the potential to take her away from the protection of her father .. In this matter, he will have the final word and his word will be law, whatever Nicole’s wishes may be. Retribution for daring to flout his commands, is swift and brutal. Yet perversely, he is also a man of his word, which ultimately, is both ‘Skin’s’ undoing and his saving.

 If I had one small observation to make about the story, it would probably be that there is not enough correlation between the opening couple of chapters for me. I can see why Maria would want revenge and retribution from the mob and why she therefore seeks out ‘Skin’ and ‘Griffin’. What seems a little skewed, is the way in which ‘Skin’ tells her his whole experience at the hands of the mob, including all the more personal details of his relationships and family, when he has only just met Maria and knows nothing about her. Perhaps this is just me being a little pernickety and this small point does absolutely nothing to detract from the overall power and strength of the storyline and characters. The poignant and touching ending to the story, is one of hope for the future, now that Sean has finally expunged the memories of his parents, both good and bad and is almost able to move on with his changed life, living, one suspects, by his own rules and disciplines, going into the future.

Powerful, fast-paced, action-packed, this is a story of one man trying to find his place in the scheme of things and maybe finding it eventually, in a place and time which he least expects.

photograph of author Adam Pepper

This crime drama novel, was gifted as a request for me to read and leave my comments about, by its author, Adam Pepper and as such was free of charge.

This will in no way influence any comments I may express about the book, in any blog article I may post. Any thoughts or comments will be my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article.

I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a 4 out of 5.

Written by

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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    • Hi Nikki,

      I admit that I haven’t previously read much about the Mafia, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, however, I am so glad that I gave this one a chance. It is a good, ‘gutsy’ thriller, which had me on the edge of my seat, from beginning to end.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on the post, you know that it is always appreciated.

  • Just thought that I would like to share this lovely email I have received from the author Adam Pepper, following this post.

    I would like to add my thanks to all my fellow bloggers, who took the time and trouble to read and leave comments about the various posts discussing ‘Skin Games’. I always value and appreciate all your thoughts and comments …


    Thank you so much!

    I really appreciate the time and care you gave to my book. It sounds like it made an impression on you, which is a real thrill. I read all the entries and love how you did more than just a standard book review and the comments from other readers and bloggers was both flattering and encouraging.

    Thanks again.



  • Yvonne, I am impressed by the quality and comprehensive review you have given Adam Pepper and Skin Games. It must have taken you ages to write this, it certainly took a while to read it. Sounds as though you really enjoyed this crime drama, one of your favourite genres I believe.

    • Hi Linda,

      I have to admit that I do revisit a post many times, before I am actually happy enough with it to publish.

      I do try not to give my own opinion of the book too much, as that can sometimes be quite subjective. Several people could read exactly the same book, yet each would probably have quite different views about it and would rate it entirely differently.

      I try to assess the characters and storyline of a book and will always strive to highlight the good points, whilst also mentioning the not so good (again this is purely my take on the book).

      As for reading, I am finding that a book is taking much longer to complete than it used to, mainly because I am spending what little free time I have, at the keyboard of my laptop!! I do so enjoy catching up with everyone and seeing what great finds you have all come across, but I don’t think that I have the balance quite right between blogging and reading … perhaps I need to reassess the situation and make some changes.

      Crime /Thrillers, are still my favourite genre, although author requests have found me reading way outside of my usual comfort zone, on a regular basis. I have come across some great gems of books in this way, including ‘Skin Games’ by Adam Pepper. I don’t think I have come across anything truly awful that I have had to give up on.

      Thanks so much for your kind words, I really appreciate them, they have made my day!

  • I like reads that keep me on the edge of my seat like that. I like the New York setting and the mob aspect sounds good as well. Sounds like one of those gritty type of reads.

    • Hi Naida,

      So long as you bear in mind that the sex and violence references and scenes, are all intrinsically part of the storyline and would leave the plot woefully lacking in authenticity if they were removed, then I think that you should really find this story an edge-of-the-seat read, without a doubt.

      It just wouldn’t have the same impact if the story was set anywhere else other than New York and I just loved all the great names for the areas mentioned, they all sounded typically ‘gangsterish’ somehow.

      Thanks for stopping by, your comments, as always, are appreciated.

  • I love books that grip you from start to finish. I just finished one that included the mafia, and it was like that.

    Love your comment “I also wanted to shake Sean until his brains rattled”, I’ve felt that same way about many of the characters I’ve read.

    • Hi Vicki,

      Well honestly, if you could have seen the way that Nicole was manipulating Sean, you would have wanted to shake him too!! It actually transpired that she did care for him more than I had at first thought, but clearly not enough to stand up to her father … she let Sean take care of confronting him, with both knowing that the Don wouldn’t be able to lose face and let the young couple be happy together and assuming that Sean would take the terrible retribution which he felt he needed to dish out.

      I am just going across to check out ‘All He Saw Was The Girl’, but that looks like another for my list.

      Thanks for leaving your comments, they are valued and appreciated.

Written by Yvonne