The Skin Gods (Kevin Byrne & Jessica Balzano Series #2)

The Skin Gods (Kevin Byrne & Jessica Balzano Series #2)

4.6 15
by Richard Montanari

View All Available Formats & Editions

With the breakneck pacing and intricate plotting of his most recent novel, The Rosary Girls, Richard Montanari established himself as one of the most exciting suspense writers working today. Now he proves himself a virtuoso with The Skin Gods, an explosive new thriller featuring Philadelphia homicide detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano.

It is the steaming


With the breakneck pacing and intricate plotting of his most recent novel, The Rosary Girls, Richard Montanari established himself as one of the most exciting suspense writers working today. Now he proves himself a virtuoso with The Skin Gods, an explosive new thriller featuring Philadelphia homicide detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano.

It is the steaming heart of summer in the City of Brotherly Love. Back on the force after taking a bullet during the arrest of a sadistic murderer, Detective Kevin Byrne warily returns to police headquarters. He cannot shake the memory of the Rosary Killer’s innocent victims–or his growing sense that the evil has not been vanquished. And when he and his partner, Detective Jessica Balzano, are called in on a bizarre case, Byrne’s gravest suspicions are confirmed.

A madman, dubbed The Actor by the homicide unit, is meticulously re-creating Hollywood’s most famous–and most gruesome–death scenes. The first murder is caught on film, spliced into a rented VHS edition of the Hitchcock black-and-white masterpiece Psycho. But in place of Janet Leigh is a real-life woman, and this time, the blood is red and the knife is real. Soon, more thrilling classics are turned into terrifying snuff films and placed on video store shelves for an unsuspecting public to find.

The key to this horrific puzzle could lie with any of The Skin Gods’ supporting cast: the A-list Hollywood director, the ruthless executive assistant, the convicted mass murderer–or perhaps someone else who has made a sinister art of gruesome violence.

Hot on the psychopath’s trail, Balzano and Byrne descend into the mouth of madness and beyond, deep into the depraved underworld of S&M clubs and the porn industry, where the worship of flesh leads to malevolent evil. Before the final credits roll, the investigators will discover that none of The Actor’s victims are as innocent as they appear to be, and that the clue the police need to prevent future murders might be found in Detective Byrne’s own dark past.

Editorial Reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review
When a sadistic movie buff begins re-creating some of the most gruesome murder scenes ever captured on celluloid -- the chainsaw scene from Scarface, Glenn Close's infamous bathroom demise in Fatal Attraction, etc. -- Philadelphia homicide detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano (featured in 2005's The Rosary Girls) must catch the notorious psycho before he's gone with the wind.

Videotaped footage of the reenacted murders begins showing up, spliced into rental videos that have been stolen from and then replaced in independent video stores, and Byrne and Balzano -- who are both dealing with life-changing issues -- must somehow track down an ingenious madman dubbed the Actor, "a man of a thousand guises, skilled in the arts of dialect and stage movement." Byrne, who is recovering from a near-fatal gunshot wound to the head, and Balzano, who is struggling with a crumbling marriage, follow a meandering evidence trail that leads them through seedy no-tell motels, big-budget movie sets, the subterranean realm of fetishist pornographers, and, eventually, the stuff of their worst nightmares….

Montanari's newest thriller -- arguably his most thematically explosive work to date -- not only examines humanity's dark side, it wallows in it. From masochism to misogyny and slavery to sadism, this blood-splattered journey through the underbelly of the motion picture industry is as repulsive as it is riveting. Antibacterial soap not included. Paul Goat Allen
Publishers Weekly
In this high-body-count chiller from the author of The Rosary Girls, Philadelphia homicide detectives Jessica Balzano and Kevin Byrne are up against a savagely inventive serial killer with a yen for stomach-churning cinema verit . Copycat murders modeled on Psycho, Fatal Attraction and other movies are terrorizing the city, as the "auteur" slayer splices film of his bloody re-enactments into rental videos surreptitiously stolen from and then returned to video stores. Byrne, recovering from a near-fatal gunshot wound and swallowing Vicodin like candy, is working half time, so it's up to his eager partner, Balzano, to take the lead in the investigation. Montanari's short, punchy chapters propel the convoluted-and kinky-plot, which caroms between the big-budget movie sets of a Philadelphia filmmaker made good and an underground porn industry where good girls go bad. Several potential perpetrators rear their creepy heads, but the real killer comes out of left field-though readers very attentive to scattered clues won't be too taken aback by the gory denouement. Byrne's awkward relationship with his deaf teenage daughter, Colleen, after his divorce, and Balzano's concern for her precocious three-year-old daughter, Sophie, after she boots her philandering husband (and fellow cop) out of the house, add welcome humanity to a grisly, atmospheric thriller. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
Praise for Richard Montanari’s The Rosary Girls

“Readers of this terrifying page-turner are in the hands of a master storyteller. Be prepared to stay up all night.”
–James Ellroy

“Thoroughly creepy . . . [an] effective blend of the angelic and the demonic . . . Montanari gets it right.”
–The Philadelphia Inquirer

“A relentlessly suspenseful, soul-chilling thriller that hooks you instantly.”
–Tess Gerritsen

“Gripping . . . You begin The Rosary Girls out of curiosity but finish it out of compulsion.”
–Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Nonstop action and nail-biting suspense . . . a page-turning heart-stopping winner.”
–Kingston Observer

“A no-holds-barred thriller . . . Those with a taste for Thomas Harris will look forward to the sure-to-follow sequel.”
–Library Journal

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Kevin Byrne & Jessica Balzano Series, #2
Product dimensions:
6.44(w) x 9.48(h) x 1.38(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Skin Gods

By Richard Montanari

Random House

Richard Montanari
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0345470974

Chapter One


"What I really want to do is direct."

Nothing. No reaction at all. She stares at me with those big Prussian blue eyes, waiting. Perhaps she is too young to recognize the cliché. Perhaps she is smarter than I thought. This is either going to make the task of killing her very easy, or very difficult.

"Cool," she says.


"You've done some acting. I can tell."

She blushes. "Not really."

I lower my head, raise my eyes. My irresistible look. Monty Clift in A Place in the Sun. I can see it working. "Not really?"

"Well, when I was in junior high we did West Side Story."

"And you played Maria."

"Not hardly," she says. "I was just one of the girls at the dance."

"Jet or Shark?"

"Jet, I think. And then I did a couple of things in college."

"I knew it," I say. "I can spot a theatrical vibe a mile away."

"It was no big deal, believe me. I don't think anyone even noticed me."

"Of course they did. How could they miss you?" She reddens even more deeply. Sandra Dee in A Summer Place. "Keep in mind," I add, "lots of big movie stars started out in the chorus."



She has high cheekbones, a golden French braid, lips painted a lustrous coral. In 1960 she would have worn her hair in abouffant or a pixie cut. Beneath that, a shirtwaist dress with a wide white belt. A string of faux pearls, perhaps.

On the other hand, in 1960, she might not have accepted my invitation.

We are sitting in a nearly empty corner bar in West Philadelphia, just a few blocks from the Schuylkill River.

"Okay. Who is your favorite movie star?" I ask.

She brightens. She likes games. "Boy or girl?"


She thinks for a few moments. "I like Sandra Bullock a lot."

"There you go. Sandy started out in made-for-TV movies."

"Sandy? You know her?"

"Of course."

"And she really made TV movies?"

"Bionic Showdown, 1989. The harrowing tale of international intrigue and bionic menace at the World Unity Games. Sandy played the girl in the wheelchair."

"Do you know a lot of movie stars?"

"Almost all of them." I take her hand in mine. Her skin is soft, flawless. "And do you know what they all have in common?"


"Do you know what they all have in common with you?"

She giggles, stamps her feet. "Tell me!"

"They all have perfect skin."

Her free hand absently goes to her face, smoothing her cheek.

"Oh yes," I continue. "Because when the camera gets really, really close, there's no amount of makeup in the world that can substitute for radiant skin."

She looks past me, at her reflection in the bar mirror.

"Think about it. All the great screen legends had beautiful skin," I say. "Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, Rita Hayworth, Vivien Leigh, Ava Gardner. Movie stars live for the close-up, and the close-up never lies."

I can see that some of these names are unknown to her. Pity. Most people her age think that movies began with Titanic, and movie stardom is defined by how many times you've been on Entertainment Tonight. They've never been exposed to the genius of Fellini, Kurosawa, Wilder, Lean, Kubrick, Hitchcock.

It is not about talent, it is all about fame. To people her age, fame is the drug. She wants it. She craves it. They all do, in one way or another. It is the reason she is with me. I embody the promise of fame.

By the end of this night I will make part of her dream come true.

The motel room is small and dank and common. There is a queen-size bed, and gondola scenes on delaminating Masonite nailed to the walls. The blanket is mildewed, moth-eaten, a frayed and ugly shroud that whispers of a thousand illicit encounters. In the carpeting lives the sour odor of human frailty.

I think of John Gavin and Janet Leigh.

I paid cash for the room earlier today in my midwestern character. Jeff Daniels in Terms of Endearment.

I hear the shower start in the bathroom. I take a deep breath, find my center, pull the small suitcase out from underneath the bed. I slip on the cotton housedress, the gray wig, and the pilled cardigan. As I button the sweater, I catch a glimpse of myself in the dresser mirror. Sad. I will never be an attractive woman, not even an old woman.

But the illusion is complete. And that is all that matters.

She begins to sing. Something by a current girl singer. Her voice is quite pleasant, actually.

The steam from the shower slithers under the bathroom door: long, gossamer fingers, beckoning. I take the knife in hand and follow. Into character. Into frame.

Into legend.


The Cadillac Escalade slowed to a crawl in front of Club Vibe: a sleek, glossy shark in neon water. The thumping bass line of the Isley Brothers' "Climbin' Up the Ladder" rattled the windows of the SUV as it rolled to a stop, its smoked-glass windows refracting the colors of the night in a shimmering palette of red and blue and yellow.

It was the middle of July, the slick belly of summer, and the heat burrowed beneath the skin of Philadelphia like an embolism.

Near the entrance to Club Vibe, on the corner of Kensington and Allegheny streets, beneath the steel ceiling of the El, stood a tall, statuesque redhead, her auburn hair a silken waterfall that graced bare shoulders before cascading to the middle of her back. She wore a short spaghetti-strap black dress that embraced the curves of her body, long crystal earrings. Her light olive skin glistened under a thin sheen of perspiration.

In this place, at this hour, she was a chimera, an urban fantasy made flesh.

A few feet away, in the doorway to a shuttered shoe repair shop, lounged a homeless black man. Of indeterminate age, he wore a tattered wool coat despite the merciless heat, and lovingly nursed a nearly empty bottle of Orange Mist, holding it tightly to his breast as one might nestle a sleeping child. Nearby, his shopping cart waited as a trusted steed, overflowing with precious urban plunder.

At just after two o'clock the driver's door of the Escalade swung open, spilling a fat column of pot smoke into the sultry night. The man who emerged was huge and quietly menacing. His thick biceps strained the sleeves of a royal blue double-breasted linen suit. D'Shante Jackson was a former running back for Edison High in North Philly, a steel girder of a man not yet thirty. He stood six three and weighed a trim and muscular 215 pounds.

D'Shante looked both ways up Kensington and, assessing the threat as nil, opened the rear door of the Escalade. His employer, the man who paid him a thousand dollars a week for protection, stepped out.

Trey Tarver was in his forties, a light-skinned black man who carried himself with a lithe and supple grace, despite his frame's ever-expanding bulk. Standing five eight, he had broached and passed the two-hundredpound mark years earlier and, given his penchant for bread pudding and shoulder sandwiches, threatened to venture much higher. He wore a black Hugo Boss three-button suit and a pair of Mezlan calfskin oxfords. Each hand boasted a pair of diamond rings.

He stepped away from the Escalade and flicked the creases on his trousers. He smoothed his hair, which he wore long, Snoop Dogg style, although he was a generation-plus away from legitimately copping hip-hop fashion cues. If you asked Trey Tarver, he wore his hair like Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire.

Trey shot his cuffs and surveyed the intersection, his Serengeti. K&A, as this crossroads was known, had had many masters, but none as ruthless as Trey "TNT" Tarver.

He was about to enter the club when he noticed the redhead. Her luminous hair was a beacon in the night, her long shapely legs a siren call. Trey held up a hand, then approached the woman, much to the dismay of his lieutenant. Standing on a street corner, especially this street corner, Trey Tarver was in the open, vulnerable to gunships cruising up both Kensington and Allegheny.

"Hey, baby," Trey said.

The redhead turned to look at the man, as if noticing him for the first time. She had clearly seen him arrive. Cool indifference was part of the tango. "Hey, yourself," she said, finally, smiling. "You like?"

"Do I like?" Trey stepped back, his eyes roaming her. "Baby, if you was gravy I'd sop ya."

The redhead laughed. "It's all good."

"You and me? We gonna do some bidness."

"Let's go."

Trey glanced at the door to the club, then at his watch: a gold Breitling. "Gimme twenty minutes."

"Gimme a retainer."

Trey Tarver smiled. He was a businessman, forged by the fires of the street, schooled in the bleak and violent Richard Allen projects. He pulled his roll, peeled a Benjamin, held it out. Just as the redhead was about to take it, he snapped it back. "Do you know who I am?" he asked.

The redhead took half a step back, hand on hip. She gave him the twice-over. She had soft brown eyes flecked with gold, full sensuous lips. "Let me guess," she said. "Taye Diggs?"

Trey Tarver laughed. "That's right."

The redhead winked at him. "I know who you are."

"What's your name?"


"Damn. For real?"

"For real."

"Like that movie?"

"Yeah, baby."

Trey Tarver considered it all for a moment. "My money better not be gone with the wind, hear'm saying?"

The redhead smiled. "I hear you."

She took the C-note and slipped the bill into her purse. As she did this, D'Shante put a hand on Trey's arm. Trey nodded. They had business to attend to in the club. They were just about to turn and enter when something caught the headlights of a passing car, something that seemed to wink and glimmer from the area near the homeless man's right shoe. Something metallic and shiny.

D'Shante followed the light. He saw the source.

It was a pistol in an ankle holster.

"The fuck is this?" D'Shante said.

Time spun on a crazy axis, the air suddenly electric with the promise of violence. Eyes met, and understanding flowed like a raging current of water.

It was on.

The redhead in the black dress--Detective Jessica Balzano of the Philadelphia Police Department's Homicide Unit--took a step back and in one smooth, practiced motion, pulled the badge on a lanyard from inside her dress, and slipped her Glock 17 out of her purse.

Trey Tarver was wanted in connection with the murder of two men. Detectives had staked out Club Vibe--as well as three other clubs--for four straight nights, hoping for Tarver to surface. It was well known that he did business in Club Vibe. It was well known he had a weakness for tall redheads. Trey Tarver thought he was untouchable.

Tonight he got touched.

"Police!" Jessica yelled. "Let me see your hands!"

For Jessica, everything began to move in a measured montage of sound and color. She saw the homeless man stir. Felt the weight of the Glock in her hand. Saw a flutter of bright blue--D'Shante's arm in motion. A weapon in D'Shante's hand. A Tec-9. Long magazine. Fifty rounds.

No, Jessica thought. Not my life. Not this night.


The world uncoiled, shot back to speed.

"Gun!" Jessica yelled.

By this time Detective John Shepherd, the homeless man on the stoop, was on his feet. But before he could clear his weapon, D'Shante spun and slammed the butt of the Tec into his forehead, stunning him, flaying the skin over his right eye. Shepherd collapsed to the ground. Blood spurted, cascaded into his eyes, blinding him.

D'Shante raised his weapon.

"Drop it!" Jessica yelled, Glock leveled. D'Shante showed no sign of compliance.

"Drop it, now!" she repeated.

D'Shante drew down. Aimed.

Jessica fired.

The bullet slammed into D'Shante Jackson's right shoulder, exploding the muscle and flesh and bone into a thick, pink spray. The Tec flew from his hands as he spun 360 and collapsed to the ground, shrieking in surprise and agony. Jessica inched forward and kicked the Tec over to Shepherd, still training her weapon on Trey Tarver. Tarver, hands up, stood near the mouth of an alley that cut between the buildings. If their intel was accurate, he carried his .32 semi-auto in a holster at the small of his back.

Jessica looked over at John Shepherd. He was stunned, but not out. She took her eyes off Trey Tarver for only a second, but that was long enough. Tarver bolted up the alley.

"You all right?" Jessica asked Shepherd.

Shepherd wiped the blood from his eyes. "I'm good."

"You sure?"


As Jessica sidled up to the alley entrance, peering into the shadows, back on the street corner D'Shante pulled himself into a sitting position. His shoulder oozed blood between his fingers. He eyed the Tec.

Shepherd cocked his .38 Smith & Wesson, aiming it at D'Shante's forehead. He said: "Give me a fucking reason."

With his free hand, Shepherd reached into his coat pocket for his two-way. Four detectives were sitting in a van, half a block away, waiting for the call. When Shepherd saw the casing on the rover, he knew they would not be coming. When he had fallen to the ground, he smashed the radio. He keyed it. It was dead.<


Excerpted from The Skin Gods by Richard Montanari Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Richard Montanari is a novelist, screenwriter, and essayist. His work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and scores of other national and regional publications. He is the OLMA-winning author of the internationally acclaimed thrillers The Rosary Girls, Kiss of Evil, Deviant Way, and The Violet Hour. Visit the author’s website at

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Skin Gods 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
ClarkP More than 1 year ago
Richard Montanari has delivered once again. This book is the follow-up to The Rosary Girls, both are gritty thrillers. The Skin Gods has great characters, real and believable. The plot was intense and disturbing. This book makes the reader question themselves as to what they would do if they were in the situation of the characters, which is a positive. If you enjoy intellectual stimulation then this is the book for you. Two thumbs up for Richard Montanari's The Skin Gods.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really exciting police thriller. This is the second in the Kevin Byrne/Jessica Balzano series and is just as good as the first. I found myself putting it down, just so I wouldn't read it so fast and make it last longer! These novels remind me of John Connolly's Charlie Parker books. A police detective with a tortured soul and a little ghost presence thrown in. I highly recommend these books!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TWTaz More than 1 year ago
This is the second Richard Montanari book I've read (The Rosary Girls being the first), and I enjoyed it just as much, if not more, than the first one. I like the fact that the detectives have real lives with real problems and that they're not automatically thrown into a romance together as some male/female cop partners in other books are. Every time I thought I had the killer figured out, I only had to turn the page to rethink my theory! Kept me guessing to the end. Being a fan of horror/scary movies, this storyline and the references to the movies made me enjoy this book even more. I can't wait to pick up this author's next book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being a voracious reader of excellent mystery writers. I was nonetheless surprised at the talent of Mr. Montanari. He is now my number one mystery author and I can hardly wait for his next endeavor. He is one great scary scene setter. I am delighted to recommend his books to anyone who enjoys an intelligent written novel that will make you hold your breath at times. Kudos to Mr. Montanari for a great imagination...
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Philadelphia, a vicious sly serial killer enjoys reenacting famous death scenes from movies. He films his work and then splices its content in with originals like Psycho. After adding his real gruesome take to a video, he returns the revised film to the store so someone can rent his ¿director¿s¿ cut. People who have seen Hitchcock¿s Psycho for instance are in for quite a shocking ¿director¿s¿ cut.------ Philadelphia homicide detectives Jessica Balzano and Kevin Byrne investigates the homicides though the latter works part-time as he still recovers from a gunshot wound. Since the killer¿s is talented with his filming and cutting, in between Kevin chomping on pain pills, the two sleuths look into the local film industry for clues to include a major producer and pornography movie makers. The two partners also have baggage from their personal lives as Kevin struggles to stay connected with his teenage daughter following his divorce and Jessica worries about her preschooler after tossing out her womanizing spouse.------ The serial killer makes this a strong thriller as readers can envision his splicing his work into classic film scenes. This makes for an electrifying investigation mostly run by Jessica. Though the two sleuths seems to be overloaded with personal baggage that slows down the case, fans of police procedurals or gimmicky serial killer tales will take pleasure in reading SKIN GODS and obtaining the two detectives¿ first case together (THE ROSARY GIRLS).----- Harriet Klausner