Unreliable narrators have become incredibly popular since the explosive success of “Gone Girl.” Poppy, the narrator in Lisa Unger’s Under My Skin might be the most unreliable narrator of all, or so it seems. She has more than a “lost weekend” after her husband’s murder. She has a breakdown, disappearing and showing up days later with no memory of where she went or what she did. As it approaches a year since his death, she might be remembering things, but then again, she could be hallucinating or dreaming. She’s not sure what is and is not reality.
However, she’s pretty sure someone is following her. She knows her husband’s murder is unsolved, and she thinks there might be answers in those lost days. As a reader, you can’t be sure either. For example, Poppy has a conversation with an old friend and neighbor who gives her something, possibly a clue, but when she can’t find it later, she’s told the woman died months earlier. So, was that a dream, a hallucination, was her neighbor alive and the person telling her was lying, or was it the kind of normal paranormal that Unger has made so compelling in her other books. Maybe it’s all the side effects of the sleeping pills and other things she’s been taking to manage her trauma from losing her husband.
This is a good thriller. There is a sense of constant menace that ratchets up slowly, but surely. Poppy is smart, most of the time, when she is not paralyzed by questioning her sanity. She has agency and asserts herself when she’s pushed around by a well-meaning, but overweening, friend. The clues are put in place so there is reason to suspect the guilty party – along with a few other people. It’s fair, which is what I think is required. The only bit of “unfairness” is when the facts are known after a trip to a bank, but they are not shared immediately. The only huge obstacle for me was Poppy not calling the cops when she’s driving to confront the killer because it’s a fairly long drive, the cops knew who was guilty so would believe her, and she had a cell phone. She’s not that dumb, so why did she do that?
I enjoyed Under My Skin for what it is, an engaging mystery with a hint of romance, though of course, with someone who is a natural suspect. There’s enough complication to be engaging. It is not, however, the kind of atmospheric and risk-taking thriller that Unger’s Ink and Bone made me hope to find.
I received an e-galley of Under My Skin from the publisher through NetGalley.